U.S. President Donald Trump has approved publication of a Republican memo that argues that top law enforcement officials abused their investigative authority for partisan ends during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Shortly after the House released the memo.
A White House official confirmed to VOA that a message had been sent to the House Intelligence Committee that the president has no objection to declassification of the memo, which was written by the committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes.
Speaking to reporters at the White House Friday, Trump said what he had read in the memo was “terrible.” During a photo opportunity with North Korean defectors, Trump said, “I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on in this country... A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that."
WATCH: Trump on Republican Memo
The president authorized the release of the document despite the strong objections of top officials at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
When asked by a reporter whether release of the memo makes it more likely that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be fired, Trump replied, "You figure that one out."
Release of the memo intensifies the battle between Trump and his Republican allies in Congress on one side, and Democrats and top FBI officials on the other about whether the probe into Russian interference in the presidential election was affected by political bias on the part of investigators.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have prepared their own memo, countering the Republican claims. The top Democrat on the intelligence committee, California Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), told "CBS This Morning" that any move by Trump to make the document public would constitute an attack on the integrity of law enforcement agencies.
“It’s clear from the president that this is exactly the purpose behind this cherry-picking of information that Nunes wants to release," Schiff said. "This is designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI, to undermine the investigation.”
Trump earlier fired off two tweets about the memo. The first charged that leaders of the FBI and the Justice Department had politicized “the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.”
The second suggests that top law enforcement officials took part in an effort to hide a move by the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to produce misleading information to persuade a judge to approve spying on the Trump campaign.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says he sees the FBI’s concern as being more political than substantive.
"Notably, the objections by the FBI have been to the memo being "inaccurate" by "omission." That does not sound like a concern over classification. It sounds like a concern over public embarrassment or criticism,” Turley told VOA.
“It is a curious thing to see Democrats expressing outrage at the notion that the Committee would ever question the classification of material by the FBI. Agencies have long been notorious for over-classification of information and the use of classification authority to shield officials from public exposure or criticism,” Turley said.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who advised the Trump campaign, said it is important that the classification system works in a “straightforward fashion”. But he told CNN the president has total discretion in releasing information.
“This whole classification system reports ultimately to one individual, the president,” Woolsey said. “So it’s entirely clear that it’s his right under the process to say “I have decided this will not harm the United States and it should be released, or I have decided this would harm the United States so I do not wanted it released. That’s his call,” he told CNN.
David B. Cohen, political science professor at the University of Akron, said he sees release of the Nunes memo as part of a Republican campaign to discredit the Russia probe being carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also a former FBI Director.
“Trump seems to be laying the groundwork for further firings of high-level DOJ personnel including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as the pardoning of key witnesses and family members, Cohen told VOA.
“By utilizing a sustained strategy of publicly criticizing and discrediting the upper ranks and career civil servants of the FBI and DOJ, Trump is attempting to inoculate his base and others that are sympathetic to his plight for when he fires Rosenstein, Mueller, and others,” Cohen said.
Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes called the FBI's objections to release of the memo "spurious."
"The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions' with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses," Nunes said in a statement.
Trump, while attacking top FBI and Justice Department officials, tried to differentiate between leadership and the rank and file employees of the investigative agencies. In on his his tweets Friday, Trump wrote “Rank and file great people.”