Trump refuses to declassify Democratic response to GOP Russia memo

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump opposed disclosure of a classified memo from House Intelligence Committee Democrats.
  • Trump approved a memo from Republicans on the same committee, written by chairman Devin Nunes, the week before.
  • The Democrats' memo responds to the GOP memo, which Democrats and intelligence officials say is "misleading" and "extraordinarily reckless."
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking to reporters in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 9, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President Donald Trump on Friday refused to allow public disclosure of a Democratic response to a contentious House Republican memo on the FBI's Russia probe — which Trump approved for release last week.

In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, White House counsel Don McGahn said that the president is unable to declassify the Democrats' memo.

"Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th Memorandum, because the Memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time," McGahn writes.

On Twitter Saturday, Trump blasted the document as "very political" and that it needed to be "heavily redacted" in order to prevent classified information from being disclosed.

Trump response

The letter from McGahn also cites and includes a note from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray that says they had "concerns" about the Democrats' memo related to "longstanding principles regarding the protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and other similarly sensitive information."

Trump declassified the GOP memo over the objections of Rosenstein and Wray.

McGahn's letter said the White House would review another draft of the Democrats' memo, should the House intelligence panel work with the Justice Department to make revisions.

"The President encourages the Committee to undertake these efforts," McGahn writes.

The GOP claims that a politically motivated and unverified dossier was used as the basis for extending surveillance warrants against ex-Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who had contacts with Russia. The Democratic memo offers a rebuttal to the Republican memo's allegations.

The House Committee rule used to send the memo to Trump can also be used to bypass him, and appeal directly to the House of Representatives. The Intelligence Committee has the option to vote again to decide whether to refer the disclosure to the House, which will then have its own vote on whether to release their memo.

The dueling memos from different members of the House Intelligence Committee relate to an ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Mueller is also investigating whether Trump interfered with that inquiry.

Critics of Mueller's probe have used the GOP memo, and other sources, to argue that the inquiry is baseless and spurred by political animus to Trump.

Trump had signaled his willingness to release the Republicans' memo before he had even read it.

The president later said the Republican memo, released by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., "totally vindicates" Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Trump tweet "totally vindicates"

Democrats and U.S. intelligence officials had strongly disputed the GOP memo's accuracy before and after its release. Some Republicans likewise disagreed with the conclusions being drawn from that document.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., was the only member of the committee cleared to actually read the primary documents from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the memo was based on.

After the memo was released, Gowdy said on Twitter that it did not discredit Mueller's probe.

Gowdy tweet

Trump's refusal to approve the Democrats' memo conflicts with the White House's previous position on the Republican memo.

Asked about the GOP memo in January, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "We certainly support full transparency."

"It sounds like there are some members in the House that have some real concern with what's in that memo, and feel very strongly that the American public should be privy to see it," Sanders said at the time.