Democrats are still in the dark about when they’ll be able to release a classified memo rebutting Republican assertions that the FBI misled a federal judge in order to spy on a Trump campaign adviser suspected of having ties to Russia.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that the memo he drafted was still under review four days after President Donald Trump blocked its release — a decision supported by top Justice Department officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray.
In a letter to the committee, Trump’s top lawyer, Don McGahn, said last Friday that the president shut down the Democrats’ effort to release their memo — after a five-day review — because it included too much national security information to declassify. In an accompanying letter, Rosenstein and Wray indicated that they had highlighted portions the Democratic memo they viewed as particularly sensitive.
Schiff told reporters on Tuesday that he was still working with the FBI to determine what portions of the memo to redact.
“All I can say is we’re trying to get it out as soon as possible,” he said.
Schiff said Democrats didn’t intend to revise the memo beyond making redactions requested by intelligence leaders. He accused the White House of wanting to redact information that isn’t sensitive but reflects badly on the administration.
The continued wrangling over the Democratic memo raises the prospect that it could take weeks to resolve, possibly stretching into early March. That’s because the obscure House process for releasing classified information requires the Intelligence Committee to vote to send such material to the White House for a five-day review. The committee already voted unanimously last week to send the Democratic memo to Trump’s desk, but members of the panel say they’re not sure whether making a second attempt will require a new vote.
“First time we’ve ever done this, so there’s no precedent set, but if it requires another vote we’ll vote it out again,” Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, a top Republican on the committee, said on Tuesday.
But the prospect of a second vote raises another dilemma. The House leaves town on Thursday morning for a recess that stretches until Feb. 26. If the committee requires another vote and a redacted memo isn’t ready in time, it could push the debate over releasing the Democrat document to the end of the month. At that point, another five-day review period by the White House could extend into March.
But Conaway and Schiff both say their goal is to send the memo back to the White House this week, whether or not it requires another vote.
“The quicker we get the Democrat memo out, the better,” Conaway said.
While the Democrats wrangle over their memo, Republicans have continued to tout their own, which Trump declassified earlier this month, as proof of improper actions by senior FBI officials. The bureau described the Republican memo as misleading and had urged Trump to oppose its release, but Trump overrode his own FBI director’s warning.
According to the GOP memo, top FBI officials obtained a warrant to spy on Page, a Trump campaign adviser, in October 2016. Their application to a secret federal court included material from a dossier compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who had been commissioned by a firm working for the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans say the FBI failed to disclose the Clinton connection to the dossier, though Democrats intend to argue in their memo that the FBI’s application did in fact reference unspecified political bias.
The judge approved the warrant to spy on Page in October 2016, and three subsequent 90-day extensions were granted. Those stretched into mid-2017, when Trump’s own Justice Department reviewed the applications.