The White House on Friday told Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to redraft their rebuttal to a controversial GOP memo alleging government surveillance abuse during the 2016 campaign, saying sensitive details need to be stripped out before the document can be made public.
The message was sent to the committee on Friday in a letter from White House Counsel Don McGahn.
"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," McGahn wrote.
"However, given the public interest in transparency in these unprecedented circumstances, the President has directed that Justice Department personnel be available to give technical assistance to the Committee, should the Committee wish to revise the February 5th Memorandum to mitigate the risks identified by the Department," McGahn continued. "The President encourages the Committee to undertake these efforts. The Executive Branch stands ready to review any subsequent draft of the February 5th Memorandum for declassification at the earliest opportunity."
A letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray accompanied McGahn's response. In that accompanying letter, the two men noted "a version of the document that identifies, in highlighted text, information the release of which would present such concerns in light of longstanding principles regarding the protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and other similarly sensitive information.
"We have further identified, in red boxes, the subset of such information for which national security or law enforcement concerns are especially significant. Our determinations have taken into account the information previously declassified by the President as communicated in a letter to HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes dated February 2, 2018."
Earlier this week, the House Intelligence Committee approved the release of the Democrats' memo, giving Trump five days to consider whether he should block publication for national security reasons.
For the moment, the White House letter halts the release.
“The President’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement after the release of McGahn's letter. "The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo, transparency, vanishes when it could show information that’s harmful to him. Millions of Americans are asking one simple question: What is he hiding?”
Democrats have been expected to use their memo to try to undermine Republican claims that the FBI and DOJ relied heavily on the anti-Trump dossier to get a warrant to spy on a Trump associate -- and omitted key information about the document's political funding. Democrats claim the GOP memo was misleading.
"We think this will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies in the majority memo," California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said Monday.
But it had been expected that the Democrats' memo might raise red flags during the review period.
A source who read the FISA rebuttal memo told Fox News earlier this week that it is filled with sources and methods taken from the original documents. The source argued that this was done to strategically force the White House to either deny release of the memo or substantially redact it, so that Democrats could accuse the White House of making redactions for political reasons.