President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to back away from his earlier demand for the “immediate declassification” of various documents and text messages related to the Russia investigation, kicking the issue instead to the Justice Department watchdog.
Trump sent two tweets on Friday stating that the Justice Department inspector general has been asked to review the documents on an expedited basis, while saying he still could ultimately decide to declassify the materials.
But the apparent backtrack was a significant shift from his unprecedented Monday statement calling for the declassification of selective portions of the FBI’s June 2017 application to monitor former Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release,” Trump tweeted Friday.
“Therefore, the Inspector General…has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me - and everyone!”
On Thursday evening, Trump signaled that he might be shifting from the declassification demand when he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he had received phone calls from two unnamed “very good allies” who raised objections to releasing the documents publicly.
In addition to the FISA materials, Monday’s White House statement also called for declassifying “all FBI reports of interviews” prepared in connection with the FISA applications – which are generally highly classified materials and potentially contain information from foreign intelligence sources.
The move prompted an outcry from Democrats and former intelligence officials, who argued that the President could be jeopardizing intelligence sources and politicizing intelligence during an ongoing investigation into ties between his campaign associates and Russia.
Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz, who issued the report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation earlier this year, is already probing the FBI and Justice Department handling of the Russia investigation.
The White House statement on declassification cited several congressional committees in the decision to release the materials — and Trump’s Republican allies have been pressing for the materials to be released.
“This could be done in the next few hours. And the fact it’s not being done should worry the heck out of the American people,” House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said in a Fox News interview Friday.
In an interview with Hill.TV, Trump said he had not read the materials but said that “many people in Congress” and “commentators” on Fox News, including Hannity, had called on him to release the records.
Portions of the Page FISA applications were already released earlier this year following Freedom of Information Act lawsuits — as well as the memo from Nunes that alleged the FBI abused the FISA process. But the document was heavily redacted, and House Republicans subsequently pressed for those portions of the FISA application to be made public.
Trump and his allies have charged that the FBI used intelligence gathered from former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele — the author of the dossier on Trump and Russia — in the FISA application, misled the court about how Steele’s dossier had been funded through a law firm by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and did not disclose Steele’s anti-Trump bias.
The redacted versions of the FISA applications that are publicly available show the FBI did disclose a political motivation behind the dossier, stating that the person behind it was likely looking for information to discredit Trump’s campaign.