WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump blocked the release of a memo written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as a rebuttal to allegations from their Republican counterparts that the FBI abused surveillance laws to improperly spy on the Trump campaign.
In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, White House counsel Don McGahn said that while the president is “inclined” to declassify the memo, he will not “at this time” due to it containing “numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.”
McGahn said Trump has directed the Justice Department to offer assistance to the House committee to revise the memo.
“The Executive Branch stands ready to review any subsequent draft … for declassification at the earliest opportunity,” McGahn said.
The White House also shared a letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray expressing concern about the release of certain parts of the memo. The letter came in response to McGahn’s request for the FBI and DOJ to review the Democratic memo, and argued that certain passages sparked concern about the protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and other sensitive information.
Rosenstein and Wray had expressed similar concern about a GOP-drafted memo that Trump did agree to release last week.
The House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Democrats’ memo on Monday, days after the Republicans’ version became public. The Republicans on the committee blocked the Democrats’ memo from being released simultaneously.
The GOP memo — which alleges liberal bias among mostly Republican law enforcement officials at the Justice Department and FBI — was part of a long-standing effort by the president’s allies to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump, who has characterized Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” tweeted on Saturday that the memo “totally vindicates” him.
The Republicans’ memo, drafted by staffers in the office of committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a member of Trump’s transition team, accuses law enforcement officials of misleading a secretive court that approves surveillance warrants when they applied for permission to spy on former Trump campaign official Carter Page.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed the Republican memo as misleading and factually incorrect. He said in a statement last week that his party’s response would provide missing context that would refute Republicans’ claims.
Several of the allegations in the Nunes memo are already falling apart. One of the key complaints in the memo is that the FBI failed to disclose that a dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was funded by Democratic operatives looking for information on Trump during the campaign. But three days after the memo was released, Nunes conceded that the FBI had disclosed the political origins of the Steele dossier in a footnote on its application to spy on Page.
Nunes’ memo also claimed that Andrew McCabe, then deputy director of the FBI, told the House Intelligence Committee last December that the agency wouldn’t have sought a surveillance warrant with the Steele dossier. Nunes’ staff “purposefully mischaracterizes” McCabe’s testimony in the memo, a senior Democratic committee official told HuffPost.
“The minority’s memo lays out the full facts,” the source said.
This story has been updated with information about the letter from Rosenstein and Wray.