Monday 21 May 2018

Donald Trump 'unable' to declassify democratic memo on Russia probe

President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)

Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick

The White House has formally notified the House intelligence committee that president Donald Trump is "unable" to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

Citing national security concerns, White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contained "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and asked the Democrats to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department.

He said Mr Trump was still "inclined" to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions were made.

The president's rejection of the Democratic memo is in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which he pledged before reading to make public. The president declassified the document last week, allowing its publication in full.

Mr Trump has said the GOP memo "vindicates" him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn't be used to undermine the special counsel.

On Friday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said Mr Trump had discussed the Democratic document with the White House counsel's office, FBI Director Christopher Wray and another top Justice Department official.

The president had until Saturday to decide whether to allow the classified material to become public after the House intelligence committee voted on Monday to release it.

Read more: Battle between Trump and intelligence agencies is a nightmare for democracy

In declining to declassify the document, the White House also sent politicians a letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mr 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 Department says could compromise intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and national security if disclosed.

The document in question was authored by Democrats on the intelligence panel. They say it disputes many claims in the GOP memo, which accused 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.

The memo's release would have capped 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 are not 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 Mr Trump's campaign was in any way connected to the Russian interference.

Mr Trump declassified the GOP-authored memo over the objections of the FBI, which said it had "grave concerns" about the document's accuracy.

Press Association

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