FBI and Justice Department said to plan redactions despite Trump’s document order
President Trump has demanded the “immediate declassification” of sensitive materials about the Russia investigation, but the agencies responsible are expected to propose redactions that would keep some information secret, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are going through a methodical review and can’t offer a timeline for finishing, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive matter.
The White House issued a statement on Monday listing material that Trump wants declassified immediately, echoing demands of the Republican lawmakers who share his contention that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was tainted by anti-Trump bias well before Robert S. Mueller III was named as special counsel to run it.
Among Trump’s demands was the full public release of all text messages concerning the Russia probe by Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and by several former officials including two who were fired — former FBI Director James B. Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe. One person described the order to release text messages as unprecedented, and another said additional talks will probably be held with the White House over the matter.
The Justice Department and FBI are expected to submit their documents and proposed redactions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which will assemble all the material into a package and hand it over to the White House, according to the people.
Although the agencies want to guard against revealing classified sources and methods in the ongoing Russia investigation, doing so could put them in direct conflict with Trump, who as president has the power to override the agencies and declassify material on his own.
It’s too early to say if any officials would resign in protest should Trump do that, one person said. Trump could ask the agencies to go back and scrub the redacted material further.
Critics, including leading congressional Democrats, contend that Trump has crossed a line by ordering release of the documents in order to interfere with and undermine the Russia investigation in which he’s a key figure.
“President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Monday.
Trump took the rare step of ordering material released after a group of conservative House Republicans asked him to do so.
“When the president issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests,” a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement. “The department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the president’s order.”
Some of what Trump requested was well known to the Justice Department and FBI and was already under review for potential declassification.
They have already been reviewing whether and how to release more of a previously secret warrant application to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to Trump’s presidential campaign who was flagged by intelligence agencies as a target of Russian interest. Page hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing and has said that although he had conversations with Russian officials, he wasn’t an agent of the Russian government.
The agencies also have been reviewing whether and how to release reports of interviews with Ohr on his role in the Russia inquiry.
But another part of the White House statement caused confusion because it asked for “all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications,” referring to paperwork that’s required of the government under the four-decade-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The Justice Department is interpreting that request to mean information about the use of a confidential informant during the early parts of the investigation, one person said. The department had previously briefed the “Gang of Eight,” Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and heads of the intelligence committees, on the informant.
Trump and his supporters have repeatedly attacked the FBI and Justice Department for using details from a dossier on Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele as part of its evidence to obtain a classified warrant on Page. They contend that Justice and FBI officials didn’t fully disclose that Steele was paid in part by Trump’s rival in the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton.
Democrats have said information other than the Steele dossier was used to obtain the warrant on Page.
The initial warrant request called Page “an agent of a foreign power” and said “the FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government.”
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