White House officials and others close to President Donald Trump insist he will rely on the input of law enforcement and intelligence agencies as he decides whether to declassify a memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
The Democratic memo is expected to directly undercut allegations of FBI and Justice Department abuses leveled in a controversial Republican memo Trump cleared for release last week.
White House officials and a source close to the process insist the document will face the same level of scrutiny and undergo the same interagency review as the Republican memo did last week.
The comparison, though, is raising eyebrows as last week’s memo publication came over FBI objections, which warned it had “grave concerns” about the incomplete picture the GOP memo painted. And as Democrats warn Trump’s opposition to the arguments laid out in their memo may lead Trump to block its release, Trump’s allies are eager to point to the government process as a buffer to Trump’s views.
“This will be handled by the book,” a source close to the process said of the review. “He’ll accept the recommendations of the FBI and the intel community.”
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah on Monday declined to characterize Trump’s “feeling” toward the Democratic memo, but leaned on the interagency process, which involves a review by the FBI and intelligence agencies: “We will be considering it just as we did the Nunes memo.”
While Trump allowed the interagency process to play out last week before greenlighting the GOP memo’s release, there had been no question that Trump was eager for the memo to enter the public eye.
“Don’t worry, 100%,” Trump told a Republican lawmaker who asked him after the State of the Union whether he would release the Republican memo.
And after it was released, Trump claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him in the Russia investigation, even though the document did not address the allegations of collusion or obstruction of justice that have become central to the special counsel’s probe.
The assumption at the White House is that Trump won’t stand in the way of the Democratic memo’s release, but White House officials are also warning against predicting how a characteristically mercurial President will decide the Democratic memo’s fate once he has read it.
Trump is expected to be briefed on the memo Tuesday or Wednesday, after the White House counsel’s office and National Security Council staff have thoroughly reviewed the document, a White House official said.
The memo’s arrival at the White House late Monday set in motion a five-day clock for the White House and key law enforcement and intelligence agencies to review the memo to determine whether it is appropriate to declassify the document. But the timing on a decision has yet to be determined, the White House official said, and could be adjusted depending on the news cycle.
While the review is unlikely to take a full five days, the White House may run out the clock before deciding the memo’s fate. The White House cleared the Republican memo for declassification within four days of receiving it.
Beyond how Trump’s view of the memo will impact its release, whether the FBI or other agencies will seek redactions to the document still remains unknown.
One source close to the process noted that the Democratic memo, which is longer than its Republican counterpoint, may contain more information that law enforcement and intelligence agencies may seek to redact.
Regardless of the agencies’ recommendations, the White House’s handling of the Democratic memo will be closely scrutinized, and if he opposes its release, the impact of his political views on the process will undoubtedly be called into question.
Trump’s early predisposition to releasing the memo quickly led to questions of coordination between the White House and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman – who had refused to answer questions on coordination during a committee meeting.
Pressed again Tuesday on the whether the White House, which has also denied any coordination, had any role in the crafting of the GOP memo, Nunes declined to answer directly.
“Democracy dies in darkness, my friend,” Nunes told CNN’s Manu Raju. “Get to work.”
CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.