The White House counsel said Friday night that President Trump cannot declassify a House Democratic memo on FBI surveillance abuses in the Russia probe because it “contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.”
White House counsel Don McGahn told House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that although the president is “inclined” to release the memo, the Justice Department believes disclosing certain portions of it “would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests.”
But because of “public interest in transparency in these unprecedented circumstances,” Mr. McGahn said, the president has ordered the Justice Department to give “technical assistance” to committee Democrats if they want to submit another version of the memo.
He said Mr. Trump “encourages the committee to undertake these efforts.”
The White House also sent the committee a more detailed, private document outlining the administration’s specific concerns.
Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump met with FBI Director Christopher Wray and others to discuss releasing the 10-page Democratic memo, which is expected to be a rebuttal to a Republican memo written by Mr. Nunes. That memo accused the FBI of abusing its surveillance authority to obtain a surveillance warrant for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Mr. Trump huddled with Mr. Wray, principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Robert Hur and staff from the White House Counsel’s Office “to receive their input” on the memo, said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah.
The president faced a Friday deadline to decide on releasing the memo, and he told reporters earlier in the day, “It’s going to be released soon.” He added that the White House would be sending a letter to the committee.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s ranking Democrat and author of the expected rebuttal memo, blasted Mr. Trump’s decision on Twitter late Friday.
“After ignoring urging of FBI & DOJ not to release misleading Nunes memo because it omits material facts, @POTUS [the president] 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,” Mr. Schiff tweeted.
The dispute surfaced after a transcript of the committee’s Monday meeting was released.
Mr. Schiff on Friday said that Mr. Nunes made a “carefully worded statement” during the Monday meeting but failed to satisfy the Democrat’s suspicions that “the White House may have had a role in the planning of the memo.”
The Monday transcript also featured Mr. Nunes warning Democrats to tone down their “political theater” and spend less time voicing their anger “for the news cameras.”
Earlier in the week, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a key Republican panel member, said the Democrats may have purposely included classified information into their memo as a political tactic to claim the White House was somehow impeding the investigation.
“I think the Democrats are politically smart enough to put things in the memo that require either the [FBI] or the Department of Justice to say it needs to be redacted,” Mr. Gowdy told Fox News. “Therefore, it creates this belief that there’s something being hidden from the American people.”