In a tweet on Saturday morning, President Donald Trump defended his decision not to release a potentially politically damaging Democratic memo. The “very political and long” document had to be redone and sent back “in proper form,” the president said. His decision — and defense — comes just a week after he approved the release of a Republican memo on the same subject matter that the Democratic memo contradicts. Democrats have been calling on Trump to release their memo for days.
White House counsel Don McGahn on Friday wrote a letter to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and author of the Republican memo, that Trump is “inclined to declassify” the Democratic memo — but, he said, because the document contains “numerous properly classified and especially sensitive pages,” the president isn’t able to do so. McGahn said Trump would reconsider the decision if certain changes were made to “mitigate the risks identified” by the Department of Justice.
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. Told them to re-do and send back in proper form!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
So now Trump is worried about what the Department of Justice might think
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Democratic memo, which was written by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), its ranking member. The Schiff memo is a 10-page document that responds to the Nunes memo, which alleges that the FBI abused its powers when it opened its investigation into Russia’s meddling with the 2016 election.
McGahn’s Friday letter says that Trump would be willing to review a new draft of the Schiff memo with the assistance of the Justice Department; the counsel said he’d identified portions of the memo that would “create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests.” That’s odd because the FBI — which is administered by the DOJ — vigorously objected to the release of the Nunes memo over “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Trump had no problem releasing that document, which many consider highly partisan.
In a statement on Saturday, Schiff noted the incongruity. “The White House ignored [the DOJ and FBI’s] concerns and approved the publication of the Republican memo with no redactions even though the action was described by the agencies as extraordinarily reckless and omitting material facts,” the representative said. He added that Democrats would review the recommended redactions and confer with the agencies “to determine how we can properly inform the American people.”
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: pic.twitter.com/qNVyS99eXs— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 10, 2018
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed Trump’s decision on Twitter. “The hypocrisy is on full display,” she said.
This move by @realDonaldTrump confirms what we have all known for weeks — that his decision to release the #NunesMemo was a blatantly political move made without concern for national security. The hypocrisy is on full display. What does the President have to hide?— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) February 10, 2018
Nunes, for his part, said it was “no surprise” the Schiff memo wasn’t released, given its lack of redactions. He said Democrats should make the “appropriate technical changes and redactions” as recommended “so that no sources and methods are disclosed and their memo can be declassified as soon as possible.”
As Vox’s Alex Ward pointed out, the situation has always been awkward for the president: If he released the Schiff memo, the public might have seen how Nunes left information out of his memo in order to insinuate that the FBI is biased against Trump. The president may have felt keeping the memo secret was his best option.
Trump has clearly sided with Nunes over Schiff in releasing one memo and not the other. The House of Representatives, however, could still vote to release the Democratic memo despite his opposition.