The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump favors "full transparency" as Republicans on the House intelligence committee move toward an unprecedented vote on whether to release classified information to the public.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump hasn't made a final decision on whether he would support the release of a memo that addresses a dossier on Trump and questions over whether it was used to obtain surveillance warrants. Many Republicans have pushed to release the classified memo as they have also asserted that some in the Justice Department and FBI have conspired against the president.
Sanders said no one at the White House has seen the memo, so the president was not prepared to make a decision. If the House intelligence panel does vote to release the memo — a vote that could come as soon as Monday evening — then Trump will have five days to decide whether he wants the information released. The panel could release the information five days after the vote if Trump doesn't object.
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Democrats are livid about the memo, which they say omits crucial facts and should not be selectively released. They have pushed back on Republican criticism of the FBI, saying it is an attempt to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump's campaign was involved. The probe has already resulted in charges against four of Trump's former campaign advisers and has recently moved closer to Trump's inner circle.
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said last week that Democrats on the panel had put together their own memo that they would move to make available to all House members. It's unclear if the panel will also vote on that Monday evening.
While Trump's White House signaled he would likely support the memo's release, his Justice Department has voiced concerns. In a letter to House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes last week, Justice officials said releasing the classified memo could be "extraordinarily reckless" and asked to review it.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote Nunes that given the panel's role in overseeing the nation's intelligence community, "you well understand the damaging impact that the release of classified material could have on our national security and our ability to share and receive sensitive information from friendly foreign governments."
Some senators have expressed concern about the release as well. But John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican and a member of that chamber's intelligence committee, said last week that Nunes and the Justice Department need to work out their differences. On Sunday, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both said they don't think the memo should be released.
"No, I don't want it released yet," Graham said on ABC's "This Week. "I don't. I want somebody who is without a political bias to come in and look at the allegations that I have seen."
Graham and Collins also urged special counsel Mueller to review whether Trump tried to fire him last June, an accusation the president has labeled "fake news."
"Mueller is the best person to look at it," said Graham, describing the allegation as grave if proved true. "I'm sure that there will be an investigation around whether or not President Trump did try to fire Mr. Mueller."
Collins said it would certainly "not hurt" for Congress to approve added protections for Mueller given the recent media reports. But she didn't offer a timeline.
"I think the president would be best served by never discussing the investigation, ever, whether in tweets, except in private conversations with his attorney," she said.
The New York Times and other outlets reported that Trump backed off his attempt to fire Mueller last June only after White House lawyer Don McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Trump pressed the issue.
According to the reports, Trump argued that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Virginia. The president also believed Mueller had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
On Sunday, lawmakers praised Mueller's impartiality and expressed confidence that he would be able to conduct a full, wide-ranging investigation.