WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that he is continuing to negotiate with the FBI over the release of a memo packed with classified information from secret surveillance applications, but remains unsure if the White House will attempt to block its release.
Democrats argue their memo, with as yet undisclosed details used to win court approval to listen in on a former adviser to the campaign of President Donald Trump, would rebut a Republican memo released two weeks ago. Trump has said the GOP memo proves his campaign was the target of a politically motivated spying operation.
"What I don't know is what authority the FBI and (Justice Department) has been given. When we reach an agreement with the FBI, is that the end of the matter, or will the White House use a veto?" Rep. Adam Schiff said at The Christian Science Monitor Breakfast.
Ty Cobb, the lawyer coordinating the White House's response to the special counsel's Russia inquiry, rebutted Schiff's accusation, flatly saying "No." White House counsel Don McGahn wrote the letter last Friday seeking more redactions from the Democratic memo, and it was not immediately clear Thursday afternoon whether McGahn agreed with Cobb.
Schiff and Democratic staff have been talking with the FBI about what portions of their memo to redact, after the White House last week announced it would not approve its release without significant redactions. Democrats have argued the memo would prove that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant approved for Carter Page used credible evidence, and not just allegations contained in the "Steele Dossier," which was bankrolled in part by a lawyer working for the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Schiff noted Wednesday that the memo includes classified details from four FISA applications on Page — the original request filed in October 2016, and three subsequent renewals.
The Justice Department had previously responded to public records requests on government surveillance of Trump associates by refusing to confirm or deny that any such records existed — known in the law as a Glomar response.
But in a court filing Wednesday, the department acknowledged the existence of the Republican memo and the facts it revealed. It withdrew its Glomar response with respect to the surveillance of Page and confirmed that the first FISA warrant for him was obtained after he had left the Trump campaign.
A broad swath of Republicans also have said releasing the Democratic memo would be good for the president, practically and politically — they say it will not detract from allegations that the Obama-era Justice Department spied on Trump's campaign to help Hillary Clinton.
"He was right to release the (Republican) memo, and I think it's been vindicated by Sen. (Chuck) Grassley and a few others. And he should release the Democratic memo," Newt Gingrich, an informal Trump adviser, said outside the White House.
Roger Stone, a veteran Trump confidant, said Trump should support releasing the Democratic memo. But he derided the Democrats' version as "contrived, ridiculous and a pathetic attempt to obscure the fact that the Democrats still have no evidence whatsoever of collusion."
But Schiff rebuffed that argument, saying that plea deals from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos are part of a broad pattern of collusion that has been revealed publicly.
"I can tell you one thing, if this were a trial on the issue of 'did the Trump campaign conspire with the Russians to interfere or violate U.S. election laws by providing help to the Trump campaign?' If this were a trial on that conspiracy charge, the charge would be conspiracy. All of that evidence would come in as evidence of collusion," Schiff said.
The fight over the second memo comes as the House Intelligence Committee's probe has struggled getting clear answers from the White House on a range of issues. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is scheduled to appear again before the committee Thursday, following weeks of delays and uncertainty, according to two people familiar with the committee. But Bannon is not planning to attend Thursday's interview, according to a third person familiar with the committee's plans. All three people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private committee deliberations.
Associated Press reporters Jonathan Lemire, Mary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker contributed to this story.