By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
President Trump unleashed a firestorm last Friday when he blocked the release of a classified memo written by Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee.
The purpose of the Democratic memo was to refute an earlier Republican memo. The Republican memo purported to prove the FBI inappropriately obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), in order to conduct surveillance on a Trump campaign advisor.
By blocking the Democratic memo, Trump ignited a quick and furious backlash from Democrats. They called the action hypocritical and a political exploitation of the nation’s intelligence secrets.
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Despite Trump’s refusal to release the Democratic memo, the House of Representatives can still vote to release it. But that would certainly set off partisan fighting over whether the document should be released at all.
Trump Responds to Democrats’ Criticism of Blocking Memo Release
The President tweeted on Saturday, “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!”
The Republican memo charged that the FBI used a dossier prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to obtain a FISA warrant. The warrant allowed the Bureau to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page and his alleged ties to Russian officials.
The memo said then-FBI Director James Comey signed three FISA extension applications and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and Deputy Attorneys General Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein each signed one FISA extension application on behalf of the Justice Department.
DOJ & FBI Never Told FISA Court of Dossier’s Origin
The dossier was used to gain the warrant. But the FISA court judges were never told who paid for the dossier, how it was compiled and the political bias of its author.
Also, the court was not informed about these facts in the FISA application renewals. These FISA renewals must be done every 90 days when surveillance is conducted on American citizens.
Even prior to the release of the Republican memo, committee Democrats vigorously tried unsuccessfully to block its release. These Democrats claimed that the memo’s publication would violate U.S. national security and compromise intelligence sources and methods.
The real purpose of the Republican memo, however, was to deflect attention from the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Kremlin. But once the memo was made public, its contents didn’t come close to supporting the hype surrounding its national security implications.
Democrats’ Memo Blocked Due to Classified Sources & Methods
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued their own memo to refute the Republicans’ document. Unfortunately, the Democrats included classified information.
Some Republicans have claimed the classified material was included on purpose. Trump would then have no choice but to refuse to release the memo because of classified sources and methods that would damage U.S. national security.
On February 9, White House Counsel Don McGahn sent a letter to Rep. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and author of the Republican memo. McGahn told Nunes that President Trump was “inclined” but “unable” to declassify the 10-page memo because it “contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.”
DOJ & FBI Concerned about National Security in Democrats’ Memo
The White House letter also included an accompanying letter from FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Their letter identified “information for which national security or law enforcement concerns are especially significant.”
“Like the GOP memo, the Democratic document draws from classified intelligence about the FBI’s Russia probe,” Politico noted.
Having refused to release the Democratic memo, Trump directed the Justice Department to provide “technical assistance” to the House Intelligence Committee. The committee would assist in revising the Democratic memo if the committee chose to do so.
As expected, Democrats were furious with the President. “The hypocrisy is on full display,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted. “What does the President have to hide?”
Nunes (R-CA) said in a statement that the Democrats’ memo could still be released after the redaction of sensitive passages flagged by Wray and Rosenstein.
“Intelligence Committee Republicans encourage the minority to accept the DOJ’s recommendations and make the appropriate technical changes and redactions so that no sources and methods are disclosed and their memo can be declassified as soon as possible,” Nunes told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.
The only way to assuage all partisan concerns that have accompanied both Democrat and Republican memos is to release the original FISA application and its subsequent renewals.
Only then will we have a full understanding how much the DOJ and FBI relied on the Russia dossier and what other evidence was presented to the FISA judges.