WASHINGTON ― The Justice Department has succeeded, for the moment, in convincing President Donald Trump to hold off on declassifying secret documents related to the ongoing criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The White House said earlier this week that Trump had ordered the Justice Department to immediately declassify certain previously redacted portions of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application regarding Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who was monitored by the government during the 2016 campaign. Releasing the classified documents would have marked an extraordinary intervention into the Russia investigation, which has been led by special counsel Robert Mueller since May 2017.
But Trump walked things back in a series of tweets on Friday morning, saying that the Justice Department indicated during a meeting that releasing the documents “may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.” Instead, he said, the Justice Department’s inspector general had “been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis.” Trump said he could “always declassify if it proves necessary.”
“Speed is very important to me ― and everyone!” Trump wrote.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, while a representative of the Justice Department’s inspector general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump, in a chummy interview this week with John Solomon and Buck Sexton of The Hill, said he wanted to release the documents because he was asked by “so many people that I respect” before listing a number of Fox News and Fox Business Network hosts: “the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful, great Jeanine Pirro.”
Trump had also instructed the government to release all the text messages exchanged by former FBI attorney Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok about the Russia probe, as well as the texts of other Justice Department and FBI officials. It appeared that Trump’s statement ― referring to “various UNREDACTED documents” ― applied to the release of those texts as well.
Trump’s Republican defenders on Capitol Hill have zeroed in on various text messages exchanged by Strzok and Page as a way of delegitimizing the Mueller investigation, which has already taken down a number of key Trump associates. DOJ’s inspector general, in a report that criticized the FBI’s treatment of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, said the text messages Strzok and Page exchanged caused damage to “the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence.”
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.