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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, February 10, 2018 1:00 am

White House 'unable' to declassify memo

Associated Press

Also: No. 3 at Justice stepping down

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department's No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency.

Rachel Brand is leaving for the top legal job at Walmart, friend and former colleague Jamie Gorelick told The Associated Press Friday.

Brand, 44, attracted interest because of her potential to assume a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation. The official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump. If Rosenstein had been fired or quit, oversight would have fallen to Brand. That job would now fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

WASHINGTON – Citing national security concerns, the White House on Friday formally notified the House intelligence committee that President Donald Trump is “unable” to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains “numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages” and asked the Democrats to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department. He said Trump is still “inclined” to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

The president's rejection of the Democratic memo is in contrast to his enthusiastic embrace of releasing the Republican document, which he pledged before reading to make public. The president declassified the document last week, allowing its publication in full.

The president has said the GOP memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn't be used to undermine the special counsel.

Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Raj Shah had Trump was discussing the Democratic document with the White House counsel's office, FBI Director Christopher Wray and another top Justice Department official.

The president had until today to decide whether to allow the classified material to become public after the House intelligence committee voted Monday to release it. Republicans backed releasing the memo in committee with a unanimous vote, but several said they thought it should be redacted. Ryan also said he thought the Democratic document should be released.

In declining to declassify the document, the White House also sent lawmakers a letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Wray, as well as a marked-up copy of the memo, laying out portions it considers too sensitive to make public. Among those passages are some that the Justice Departments says could compromise intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and national security if disclosed.

Democrats who wrote the memo say it disputes many claims in the GOP memo, which accused the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their surveillance powers in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The White House message caps off a week in which Republicans and Democrats on the committee have publicly fought, with the panel now erecting a wall to separate feuding Republican and Democratic staffers who had long sat side by side.