Trump won't declassify Democratic memo on Russia probe

By CHAD DAY and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Citing national security concerns, the White House on Friday formally notified the House intelligence committee that President Donald Trump is "unable" to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and asked the Democrats to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department. He said Trump is still "inclined" to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

The president's rejection of the Democratic memo is in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which he pledged before reading to make public. The president declassified the document last week, allowing its publication in full.

The president has said the GOP memo "vindicates" him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn't be used to undermine the special counsel.

Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Raj Shah had Trump was discussing the Democratic document with the White House counsel's office, FBI Director Christopher Wray and another top Justice Department official.

The president had until Saturday to decide whether to allow the classified material to become public after the House intelligence committee voted Monday to release it. Republicans backed releasing the memo in committee with a unanimous vote, but several said they thought it should be redacted. Ryan also said he thought the Democratic document should be released.  

In declining to declassify the document, the White House also sent lawmakers a letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Wray, as well as a marked-up copy of the memo, laying out portions it considers too sensitive to make public. Among those passages are some that the Justice Departments says could compromise intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and national security if disclosed.

Democrats who wrote the memo say it disputes many claims in the GOP memo, which accused the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their surveillance powers in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The White House message caps off a week in which Republicans and Democrats on the committee have publicly fought, with the panel now erecting a wall to separate feuding Republican and Democratic staffers who had long sat side by side.
 
The disagreements have escalated over the last year as Democrats have charged that Republicans aren't taking the panel's investigation into Russian election meddling seriously enough. They say the GOP memo, led by chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is designed as a distraction from the probe, which is looking into whether Trump's campaign was in any way connected to the Russian interference.

Trump declassified the GOP-authored memo over the objections of the FBI, which said it had "grave concerns" about the document's accuracy.

In the Nunes' memo, Republicans took aim at the FBI and the Justice Department over the use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining a warrant to monitor Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The main allegation was that the FBI and Justice Department didn't tell the court enough about Steele's anti-Trump bias or that his work was funded in part by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

They argued that the reliance on Steele's material amounted to an improper politicization of the government's surveillance powers.

Democrats have countered that the GOP memo was inaccurate and a misleading collection of "cherry-picked" details.

They noted that federal law enforcement officials had informed the court about the political origins of Steele's work and that some of the former spy's information was corroborated by the FBI. They also noted that there was other evidence presented to the court besides Steele's information, though they have not provided details.

The Democratic memo is expected to elaborate on these points.

House Republicans who have seen the document had said portions will almost certainly have to be redacted to protect intelligence sources and methods. Earlier this week, White House officials said the Democratic memo would go through the same national security and legal review as the Republican document. But White House chief of staff John Kelly hinted at possible redactions, saying the Democratic version is "not as clean" as the GOP's.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, has said he will be scrutinizing the process closely. His office did not have immediate comment Friday on the White House message. 

Late Friday night, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted her opinion on the president's "refusal" to release the Democratic memo and released the following statement: 

“President Trump’s refusal to release Intelligence Committee Democrats’ memo is a stunningly brazen attempt to cover up the truth about the Trump-Russia scandal from the American people.  The President’s decision to block the Democratic memo from release is part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up on the part of the President.  Clearly, the President has something to hide.
 
“The U.S. intelligence community has concluded, and members of Trump’s cabinet agree, that the Russians interfered in our election and plan to do so again.  America’s intelligence and national security are being politicized.  Why won’t the President put our country before his personal and political interests?”

 

You can read her tweets below in which she claims the president's hypocrisy is on full display. Sen. Dianne Feinstein also weighed in on the situation, suggesting Trump is hiding something by blocking the Schiff memo. Her tweets are included below as well. 

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   Read the letter: http://apne.ws/OeAhbxf
 

 

 

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