Washington continues to wait for the president to release the rebuttal to the Republican memo alleging bias in the FBI and DOJ; Catherine Herridge goes in-depth for ‘Special Report.’
The White House on Friday told Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to redraft their rebuttal to a controversial GOP memo alleging government surveillance abuse during the 2016 campaign, saying sensitive details need to be stripped before it can be made public.
The message was sent to the committee in a Friday letter from White House Counsel Don McGahn.
“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 wrote.
“However, given the public interest in transparency in these unprecedented circumstances, the President has directed that Justice Department personnel be available to give technical assistance to the Committee, should the Committee wish to revise the February 5th Memorandum to mitigate the risks identified by the Department. The President encourages the Committee to undertake these efforts. The Executive Branch stands ready to review any subsequent draft of the February 5th Memorandum for declassification at the earliest opportunity.”
Earlier this week, the House Intelligence Committee had approved the release of the Democrats’ memo, giving President Trump five days to consider whether he should block publication for national security reasons.
The White House letter, for now, halts the release.
“The President’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement following the release of McGahn’s letter. “The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo, transparency, vanishes when it could show information that’s harmful to him. Millions of Americans are asking one simple question: what is he hiding?”
Democrats have been expected to use their memo to try to undermine Republican claims that the FBI and DOJ relied heavily on the anti-Trump dossier to get a warrant to spy on a Trump associate — and omitted key information about the document’s political funding. Democrats claim the GOP memo was misleading.
“We think this will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies in the majority memo,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said Monday.
But it was expected that the Democrats’ memo might raise red flags during the review period.
A source who read the FISA rebuttal memo told Fox News earlier this week that it is filled with sources and methods taken from the original documents. The source argued this was done to strategically force the White House into either denying release of the memo or significantly redacting it, so Democrats could accuse the White House of making redactions for political reasons.
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a GOP member of the committee, said during an interview this week on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum” that Democrats “are politically smart enough to put things in the memo” that have to be redacted.
“Therefore, it creates this belief that there’s something being hidden from the American people,” Gowdy said.
Last Friday, Republicans on the intelligence committee released their much-anticipated memo from Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
It also said the FBI and DOJ “ignored or concealed” dossier author Christopher Steele’s “anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations” when asking the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to eavesdrop on former Trump adviser Carter Page.
Democrats have been pushing back against those claims and accusing Republicans of exaggerations.
But earlier this week, a newly released version of a letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., appeared to support key claims from the GOP memo.
The surveillance applications, they said in a criminal referral for Steele sent in early January to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “relied heavily on Mr. Steele’s dossier claims.”
Further, they said the application “failed to disclose” funding from the Clinton campaign and DNC.
The referral also helped explain a point of contention in recent days, after Nunes seemed to admit on “Fox Friends” that the FBI application did include a “footnote” acknowledging some political origins of the dossier. This admission helped fueled Democratic claims that the dossier’s political connection was not concealed from the surveillance court as alleged.
According to Grassley and Graham’s referral, the FBI “noted to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier” in a footnote that said the information was compiled at the direction of a law firm “who had hired an ‘identified U.S. person’ – now known as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS.” A subsequent passage in the letter is redacted. But they said the DNC and Clinton campaign were not mentioned.
Republicans have seized on the Nunes document to make the accusation of widespread anti-Trump bias at the top of the FBI and DOJ that sparked the investigations into Trump campaign relations with Russia during the election.
The president has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia. The White House responded to the Republican memo last week by saying it “raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI to use the government’s most intrusive surveillance tools against American citizens.”
During a speech in Ohio on Monday, the president celebrated the release of the GOP memo, saying Republicans caught officials “in the act.”
Fox News’ Judson Berger and John Roberts contributed to this report.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.