Lawmakers are confident President Trump will allow the release of Democrats’ rebuttal to a GOP memo alleging federal law enforcement abused its surveillance authority, and they have begun arguing over which party should be blamed for redactions the government has yet to make.
Democrats have warned the president against scrubbing any more classified information from their document than the FBI and Justice Department recommend, saying the context is necessary to refute the GOP’s allegations. Their 10-page memo includes more classified information than the four-page GOP memo the House Intelligence Committee made fully public Friday.
House Republicans say they suspect the Democrats of designing their memo to require so many redactions that they can later accuse Trump of muzzling their rebuttal for political purposes.
“You have to hand it to them; they set themselves up in a really great position,” said Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is running the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether any of Trump’s associates coordinated with the Kremlin. “The other side will be able to say, ‘Well something politically was redacted out of there,’ and how do you prove that being wrong? Because it’s stuff we can’t tell people about.”
Members of both parties acknowledge that some of the information in the Democrats’ document must be blacked out before it can be released to the public, to protect intelligence sources and methods. On Tuesday, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), surmised that Republicans’ outlining their concerns could be an effort to help the president make additional changes.
“I’m not surprised they would like things omitted from our response,” he said.
Tuesday’s dispute suggests the partisan sniping that began last month when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee unveiled their memo will continue regardless of Trump’s decision on releasing the Democrats’ rebuttal.
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told reporters in the Capitol that he had given White House lawyers a deadline of “no later than Thursday” to complete their evaluation of the Democrats’ memo so they could then recommend a course of action.
“This is not as clean a memo as the first one,” Kelly said.
Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein on Tuesday to discuss the Democrats’ rebuttal and how it differs from the GOP memo he approved last week without changes. The dueling memos focus on an aspect of the Russia investigation that has divided the parties: a dossier alleging that Trump had personal and financial ties to Russia and the extent to which the dossier influenced law enforcement’s decision to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
The GOP memo suggests that the dossier’s author, British former spy Christopher Steele, passed questionable information about Page to the FBI and Justice Department. The information is suspect, the GOP says, because Steele’s work was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — facts, they say, that were not disclosed to the court responsible for approving surveillance warrants.
Democrats defend the FBI’s work and have disputed the dossier’s overall importance in the warrant-approval process. The surveillance court was told that Steele could have political motivations, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Schiff shared the Democrats’ document with the FBI and the Justice Department last week, hoping to compare their recommendations against anything the White House may approve. He excoriated Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) for refusing to more closely involve either agency in reviewing the GOP memo before its release.
Nunes has defended his decisions and actions, telling fellow Republicans on Tuesday that the truth is on the GOP’s side, according to members in the room.
Republicans initially unconcerned by the Democrats’ memo are increasingly worried the parties’ disputes will worsen.
“I honestly think that most of it is fine . . . but I’ve heard Schiff start to say that, you know, he’s already anticipating [the White House] redacting a lot of stuff in it,” said Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), who is helping Conaway to run the intelligence panel’s Russia probe. “When he says stuff like that, you literally can’t win. You’re like in an abusive relationship.”