WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday delayed his own order to declassify and release documents from the FBI’s Russia investigation, saying the Justice Department and U.S. allies have raised security concerns about their disclosure.
The announcement, in a pair of tweets, represented a highly unusual walk-back for a president who has pressed for the release of classified information that he believes will expose “really bad things” at the FBI and discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The order threatened to fuel further tension between Trump and a law enforcement community he routinely maligns as biased against him and determined to undermine his presidency.
The move puts on hold at least temporarily Trump’s plan to declassify highly sensitive records from the Russia probe, including a portion of a secret warrant application to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser whom the FBI suspected of being a Russian agent. The Justice Department said it had begun complying with the order, though officials had previously strenuously objected to the release of classified information they said could jeopardize the investigation and compromise secret sources.
On Friday, Trump said that instead of moving forward immediately, the department’s inspector general had been asked to review these documents on an “expedited basis.” He tweeted that he believes the office, which is already reviewing FBI actions in the early stages of the Russia probe, will move quickly.
The president also noted: “In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me – and everyone!”
John Lavinsky, spokesman for the office of Inspector General Michael Horowitz, declined comment.
Trump signalled a slowdown in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, when he said that several close allies had called to raise concerns about his decision to order the release of unredacted documents, which also include text messages of several FBI and Justice Department officials — including former FBI Director James Comey and ex-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, both fired by the president — whom the president has for months personally attacked.
“And we do have to respect their wishes,” he said in the interview. “But it’ll come out.”
On Friday, he said, Justice Department officials had warned him that the declassification of documents “may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about why the president was suddenly concerned about actions that “may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.” Trump and his allies have spent months now trying to discredit the Russia probe and undermine its future findings.
Monday’s order to declassify documents wasn’t the first time that Trump had sought to publicize classified FBI records.
He made a similar move in February when the White House, over the objections of the FBI, cleared the way for the Republican-led House intelligence committee to release a partisan memo summarizing details from the Page warrant. Democrats later countered with their own memo.
Associated Press writer Chad Day in Washington contributed to this report.