President Donald Trump on Friday declined to release a House Democratic rebuttal of a Republican memo alleging bias and misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department early in their investigation of Russian election interference.
Trump is unable to do so because it contains “numerous properly classified and sensitive passages,” White House counsel Donald McGahn wrote in a letter to the House Intelligence chairman, Republican Representative Devin Nunes of California. McGahn said the Justice Department concluded that portions of the memo were highly sensitive.
The president would consider releasing the document if changes were made “to mitigate the risks” determined by the Department of National Intelligence and Justice Department of releasing those sensitive parts,” McGahn wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, blasted Trump’s decision. “The president’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling,” he said in a statement late Friday. “The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo, transparency, vanishes when it could show information that’s harmful to him.”
Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat who wrote the memo, which is about 10 pages long, said that Trump was treating it differently from the four-page Republican version commissioned by Nunes that was released last week. He said the committee would review the concerns expressed by the FBI and Justice Department.
“After ignoring urging of FBI & DOJ not to release misleading Nunes memo because it omits material facts, @POTUS now expresses concerns over sharing precisely those facts with public and seeks to send it back to the same Majority that produced the flawed Nunes memo to begin with,” Schiff tweeted late Friday.
Nunes said in a statement that “Intelligence Committee Republicans encourage the minority to accept the DOJ’s recommendations and make the appropriate technical changes and redactions so that no sources and methods are disclosed and their memo can be declassified as soon as possible.”
The decision to block the Democratic memo is a political risk for Trump, who claimed the Republican-authored version vindicated his claims of unfair political influence in investigations at the Justice Department. He approved the release of the GOP memo over the objections of FBI Director Christopher Wray, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Schiff had submitted the memo to the FBI and Justice Department so they could vet it for sensitive information.
The White House released a letter from Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that said they have given details to the Intelligence Committee about which portions of the Democratic memo are too sensitive to release.
The decision to completely block the memo’s release — rather than redact particular excerpts objected to by law enforcement and intelligence agencies — could give further ammunition to critics who say the president is politicising the process.