The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee suggested Tuesday that the FBI and the Justice Department are asking for excessive redactions from a memo written by Democrats to rebut GOP assertions that the FBI unlawfully spied on a Trump campaign adviser.
Rep. Adam Schiff said FBI and Justice Department officials have flagged "everything that isn’t already a matter of public record" from the memo, whose release President Donald Trump blocked last week on national security grounds.
Trump had previously agreed to declassify a Republican memo earlier this month that suggests wrongdoing by senior FBI officials, which Democrats called misleading and a diversion from the federal probe into Trump’s Russia ties.
Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, Schiff speculated that "the White House must have asked" the FBI and Justice Department to raise these broad concerns.
Complaining that the officials’ requests would leave little of value in memo, Schiff urged a focus on “redactions that are necessary to protect sources and methods.”
Trump directed the Justice Department to work with Democrats to see whether portions of the memo could be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods.
Schiff said the goal of the FBI review of his memo shouldn’t be to strike all classified material — which was drawn from sensitive intelligence files — but to determine which information can safely be released.
Schiff noted that the House Intelligence Committee had already voted on the question last week.
“The committee voted to declassify all of this," he said.
Schiff’s comments on the FBI’s pushback to his memo is the clearest window yet into what revisions and redactions the FBI and the Trump White House are seeking in order to support release of the Democratic memo.
Trump approved the release of the classified Republican memo a week earlier over the objection of his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, who also opposed releasing the Democratic memo without redactions.
Schiff emphasized that the FBI hadn’t objected to the facts in the Democratic memo and noted that everything the bureau wanted removed from his memo would have provided facts that the GOP memo excluded.
"I think the question ought to be, is there anything that can’t be declassified in the public interest because [of] sources and methods and investigative interests," he said. "We’re trying to identify that very narrow subset that we can redact. So, in our view, even looking at what the FBI has identified as still classified, a lot of that is already in the public domain."
The GOP memo argued that the FBI misled a secret court to obtain a warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was suspected of having improper ties to Russian government officials. According to the Republican document, the FBI relied on a dossier compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to obtain the warrant on Page. Steele compiled his dossier for a firm that had been hired by the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee to investigate Trump’s international business relationships.