Why Trump Blocked The Democrats' Memo
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The White House has blocked, at least for now, the release of a memo by Democrats on the House intelligence committee. That memo was designed to counter Republican claims that the FBI abused its authority when it snooped on a Trump campaign aide. The whole episode is one more example of how partisan politics have begun to infect the intelligence process. We're joined now by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks for being with us.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: My pleasure.
SIMON: A whole day of waiting yesterday for this memo and then - only to use the technical term bupkis.
JOHNSON: That's right, Scott. Nothing. We've been expecting to hear what the president would do about this Democratic memo by the Democrats on the House intel committee. The memo accuses Republicans of cherry picking intelligence and putting the words - putting words in the mouths of FBI officials who approved surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Then late last night, we heard from the White House counsel Don McGahn that the White House would not publicly approve the release of this memo - at least not yet.
McGahn says it has sensitive, classified information. Democrats will need to work with the Justice Department, go through the document to mitigate any risks to national security. Now, this document is only about 10 pages long. And while Democrats had expected some changes, Scott, they were not expecting a big, fat no. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused the president of a double standard because Trump, of course, released the Republican memo in full last week. And Schumer asked, what is Donald Trump hiding?
SIMON: What are the chances, Carrie, that this memo will be released before it's leaked?
JOHNSON: Well, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says he's willing to work with the Justice Department and the FBI to make any changes for national security. Schiff says, in fact, he's been open to doing that for days and days. And Don McGahn the White House counsel says the president is inclined to release the memo at some point if the White House doesn't budge. The House can vote - the full House of Representatives can vote. And some national security lawyers tell me the committee could just release it on its own, or some could leak it.
But some Hill and Justice Department veterans are puzzled by this whole mess. Jameel Jaffer, who worked in both institutions, tells me this is a massive strategic error by the White House. He says it plays into this partisan narrative about intelligence, and it deprives people of the benefit of both sides of this debate, which has become really political. He also calls this an unforced error by the president and says the president here is being his own worst enemy. Jaffer is a Republican, by the way.
SIMON: At the same time - some other news at the Justice Department - the Justice Department official in line to supervise the special counsel's Russia probe is leaving to accept a fabulously high-paid job in the private sector. But there are always political complications to this. What do you hear?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Rachel Brand is the No. 3 at the Justice Department. She oversees civil rights and antitrust and tax issues. And if the president were to fire her boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Rachel Brand would have been the one to oversee this Robert Mueller special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election. Instead, Scott, she's leaving the Justice Department after only nine months on the job, taking a high-paying job at Walmart, as you mentioned. I've been reporting all night about why - was there something that happened? Her friends couldn't point to a particular incident there, but she says she's a young person with great potential, and it may be a good time to get out of the Trump administration before there's any more bad blood between this White House and this Justice Department.
SIMON: Justice correspondent department - Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much for being with us.
JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.