At the moment, the President does. Or at least he did yesterday.
Of course, we’re speaking of Memo 2.0, otherwise known as the Schiff memo. It was crafted in response to the already infamous memo from Devin Nunes, allegedly filling in the “missing” information which Democrats claim was intentionally left out of Memo 1.0 for partisan reasons. After saying that he planned to release it soon, Trump reversed course and said that it would be going back to the Intelligence Committee for a second pass due to security reasons. (CNN)
President Donald Trump won’t release the Democratic rebuttal to the Republican intelligence memo alleging FBI abuses of its surveillance authority at this time, and has sent it back to the House Intelligence Committee for changes.
In a letter to the committee, White House counsel Donald McGahn said, “although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th Memorandum, because the Memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time.”
Trump had said earlier Friday he planned to release the memo. “It’s gonna be released soon,” Trump told reporters at the White House, adding, “We’re going to release a letter.”
This, of course, caused Democrats to “erupt” as HuffPo described it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump’s action “stunningly brazen” and “part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up.” She added: “Clearly, the president has something to hide.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, lashed Trump for ignoring pleas from the FBI and his own Justice Department not to release the GOP memo, authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), because it omitted “material facts.” The president now “expresses concerns over sharing precisely those facts with [the] public.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the move “obstruction of justice by Donald Trump happening in real time.” He said the call “makes a mockery of national security and common sense.”
What we’re seeing here is, unfortunately, a case of a very serious question which is of interest to the public being turned into a circus and nobody comes out looking very good. On the Democrats’ side, keep in mind that the vote to release the Nunes memo went along party lines. The GOP wanted it released and the Democrats didn’t, citing concerns over revealing sensitive information. Now there’s a memo which ostensibly contains even more classified information on the same subject and the committee voted unanimously to release it. (Including the Republicans.) At a minimum, that makes the Democrats look rather inconsistent and insincere in their concerns over protecting methods and sources.
But the White House doesn’t wind up looking all that much better. Trump was ready to pull the trigger on the Nunes memo before it even arrived on his desk and he followed through with doing so. By turning around and rejecting the immediate release of the Schiff memo, he opened the door for precisely the sorts of attacks from Democrats you saw in the HuffPo article I linked above. And most of the media has been all too happy to level those same charges.
If we were approaching this in a more nuanced fashion, you could argue that Trump finds some of the new information more sensitive than what Nunes put out and he wants the committee to redact parts of it. And that may indeed be the case. But since we’ll never get to see the redacted portions, the press can simply claim that the missing material was only “sensitive” in political terms, making Trump look bad.
Of course, that leaves us with the question of whether or not the forbidden text will actually remain hidden. Are we seriously being asked to believe that the Schiff memo won’t wind up in the newsroom of either the New York Times or the Washington Post, assuming it’s not there already? They didn’t leak the Nunes memo, but that made the Democrats look bad. If this one contains information which undermines Trump, what do you suppose the odds are that they will keep it under wraps, even if it means an investigation into the disclosure of classified material?
Perhaps I’ve just grown too cynical over the years, but I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t come out either way. And that’s particularly true after we saw how Jim Comey’s personal memos were handled.