WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Saturday accused the Democrats of playing politics with classified information, asserting that their memo countering GOP allegations about the conduct of the FBI’s Russia probe was a trap meant to “blame the White House for lack of transparency.”
Citing national security concerns, the White House notified the House Intelligence Committee on Friday that the president was “unable” to declassify the Democratic memo. 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 committee to revise it with the help of the Justice Department.
He said Trump was still “inclined” to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.
Trump weighed in with a tweet on Saturday.
“The Democrats sent a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency,” he tweeted. The meaning of the “(and more)” was not immediately clear.
Trump urged the Democrats to “re-do and send back in proper form!”
The president’s rejection of the Democratic memo was in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which accuses 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.
Even before reading the GOP document, Trump pledged to make it public. It was published in full a week ago over the objections of the Justice Department.
The Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, California Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Trump for treating the two documents differently, saying the president is now seeking revisions by the same committee that produced the original Republican memo. Still, Schiff said, Democrats “look forward to conferring with the agencies to determine how we can properly inform the American people about the misleading attack on law enforcement by the GOP.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the move is “part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up on the part of the president.” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has read the classified information both memos are based on. She tweeted that Trump’s blocking the memo is “hypocrisy at its worst.”
The head of the House committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who produced the GOP memo, encouraged Democrats to accept the Justice Department’s recommendations and “make the appropriate technical changes and redactions.”
Trump has said the GOP memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn’t be used to undermine the special counsel.
The House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release the Democratic memo. Republicans backed the release, 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 FBI Director Christopher 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.
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 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 believed to elaborate on these points.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.