Though he was inclined to declassify the memo, Trump is unable to do so “at this time” as it contains “numerous properly classified and specially sensitive passages,” said his counsel.
US president Donald Trump has blocked, for “this time”, the declassification of a memo prepared by Democrats of a congressional committee probing Russian meddling that sought to rebut a Republican version he had allowed to be released and whose findings he had embraced.
Donald F McGahn II, Trump’s counsel, told the House Permanent Select Committee on intelligence on Friday that though he was inclined to declassify the memo, he is unable to do so “at this time” as it contains “numerous properly classified and specially sensitive passages.”
The counsel cited “significant concerns” raised by the department of justice about revelations in the memo as the reason for not allowing it to be declassified. But, he said, Trump was ready to take another look at a revised memo that addressed those concerns.
“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,” Trump said in a tweet on Saturday. “Told them to re-do and send back in proper form!”
The Democratic memo, which remains classified, was meant to rebut claims in the Republican memo that the FBI had obtained permission from a secret court to spy on Carter Page, a Trump campaign operative, in 2016 citing questionable material from a dossier prepared by a former British spy engaged on behalf of the Democratic party and its nominee Hillary Clinton.
As keen as the president is to end the Russian probe, he had allowed the release of the Republican memo on February 2 ignoring “grave concerns” raised by the justice department and the FBI about the accuracy of the material contained in the memo and its revelations about intelligence gathering by the US.
Unsurprisingly, Trump had embraced the findings in the Republican memo and said it vindicated his long-standing position that there was no collusion from him or his campaign with Russian meddling and that the probe was a “witch hunt”.
But concerns from the same agencies were cited by the White House to block the Democrats’ memo that is likely to challenge the conveniently complimentary narrative in the Republican memo.
Democrats slammed the block as double standards, and politically motivated.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, wrote on Twitter on Friday: “After ignoring urging of FBI & DOJ not to release misleading Nunes memo (The Republican memo put together by committee chairman Devin Nunes) 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.”
But, in an accompanying statement, Schiff said he will be “reviewing the recommended redactions”.
The probe into Russian meddling has cast a long and obstinate shadow on the Trump administration with four campaign and administration officials have been indicated on a variety of charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team that is conducting the FBI investigations. There have been reports the team wants to interview the president also.
There are multiple investigations conducted into Russian meddling by congressional committees, one of which is the permanent select panel on intelligence, which, together with its senate counterpart, has insight over all American intelligence agencies.