Trump hits the brakes on releasing classified Russia probe documents

Dan Mangan

President Donald Trump on Friday put the brakes on his plan to declassify and release documents and texts related to the federal investigation of his presidential campaign and the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The apparent reversal, which leaves unclear when, or if, the material will be released, came after days of criticism about his move to declassify the items.

Trump said in two tweets that he has asked the Justice Department's internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, to review the documents "on an expedited basis" after concerns were raised by DOJ officials that releasing the documents "may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe."

"Also, key Allies' [sic] called to ask not to release," Trump tweeted. "In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary."

Trump told Fox News on Thursday night regarding to documents, "We are moving along, we're working along."

"We are also dealing with foreign countries that do have a problem. I must tell you. I got called today from two very good allies saying, 'Please, can we talk,' " Trump said. "It is not as simple as all of that. We do have to respect their wishes. But it will all come out."

A spokesman for Horowitz declined to comment.

Trump on Monday declassified 21 pages of a 101-page application by the FBI in 2017 to renew a surveillance warrant allowing the FBI to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign aid Carter Page.

Page has told a congressional committee he had contacts during the campaign with people connected to Russia.

Trump also declassified text messages of former FBI Director James Comey , Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok .

Monday's move surprised current and former members of the U.S. intelligence community.

"This is certainly unprecedented," Robert Litt, who during the Obama administration had served as general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News.

"Between the compromise of sources and methods, the impact on the willingness of people to cooperate, and the potential of selective release of classified material for partisan purposes, I think intelligence officials will find it very troubling," Litt said.

Trump's decision also was criticized by congressional Democrats, who accused him of trying to distract the public from a series of guilty pleas this year to federal crimes by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort , former personal lawyer Michael Cohen , former campaign aide Rick Gates and others.

Rep. Adam Schiff , D-Calif., said Trump's decision to declassify the documents was a "clear abuse of power," and that he had been informed that their release could expose intelligence sources and methods.

Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the move was designed to support a "false narrative" that the investigation into possible collusion with Russians by Trump's campaign was unfair because of bias against the president among federal law-enforcement officials.

Sen. Mark Warner , D-Va., warned Trump, "Be careful what you wish for" after the declassification order was issued, suggesting that the sealed information would not necessarily be helpful to the president.

A spokeswoman for Warner, when asked about Trump's decision to have the Justice Department's inspector general review the documents, said: "I assume it had to do with objections from across the" intelligence community.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes , R-Calif., complained Friday morning on Fox News that the documents had not been released yet. Nunes spoke before Trump's tweets about the inspector general's review.

"The president was very clear," Nunes said. "The president said immediate declassification of all of this information, with no redactions. That's really simple. Immediate with no redactions."

"That was on Monday. Today, is Friday. We have nothing. Who's covering it up? DOJ and the FBI, the same people who we have been having-had to walk through stonewall after stonewall to get this information," he said.

Schiff, after Trump's tweets on Friday, said, "President Trump today acknowledged strenuous objections by the Department of Justice and U.S. allies to releasing highly sensitive material — which is related to an ongoing law enforcement investigation examining conduct by President Trump, his campaign, and his associates — but still left open the possibility that he will defy their warnings and abuse his power by unilaterally declassifying such documents."

""This was already known to the President and his allies in Congress," Schiff said. "\ The DOJ and FBI had previously informed the Administration and Congress that the release of these documents would cross a 'red line,' potentially compromising sources and methods and hindering the investigation. The President, the White House Counsel, and the President's personal lawyers nevertheless seek access to this material for the corrupt purpose of discrediting the Special Counsel — we cannot allow that."

— Additional reporting by CNBC's Tucker Higgins

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