White House Favors Releasing Democratic Memo

WASHINGTON—The White House is inclined to approve the release of a classified Democratic memo that rebuts Republican allegations of abuse by the FBI in its application to monitor a former Trump campaign aide, according to a person familiar with the matter.

John Kelly, White House chief of staff, said earlier this week that he told the lawyers reviewing the document to “get back to me” by the end of Thursday with their recommendation on whether President Donald Trump should release the memo. Mr. Kelly suggested then that redactions could be necessary, saying the document was “not as clean” as a Republican memo released the week before.

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Thursday that the review process was “ongoing.”

An administration official said a declassification decision by the president was expected on Friday.

“The White House understands that withholding the document is not the right response,” the official said. White House officials are now discussing parts that need to be redacted because they reveal investigators’ sources and methods, he said.

Mr. Trump, asked Friday how he planned to address the Democratic memo, told reporters, “We’re going to release a letter,” but didn’t provide specifics.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee wrote the 10-page memo as a rebuttal to a Republican document released to the public last week. The GOP document alleges federal investigators concealed partisan motives behind Democrat-funded research included in a secret warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

Separately, Republican lawmakers are broadening their examination of the former British spy who compiled the research, Christopher Steele, and the dossier he assembled on the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. That review includes probing what role associates of Hillary Clinton played in providing him with information, according to people familiar with the matter.

One of the questions that Republicans are asking is whether information from a freelance researcher, Cody Shearer, may have been passed indirectly to Mr. Steele, these people said. They added that the information was passed from Mr. Shearer through Sidney Blumenthal, a close associate of the Clintons, and another official who worked for the Obama State Department, Jonathan Winer.

Mr. Shearer compiled his information in September and October 2016—after many of the memos that make up the Steele dossier were already written, according to a person familiar with the matter. The information circulated widely in political and journalistic circles in Washington and was shared by Messrs. Winer and Blumenthal as part of concerns about Mr. Trump’s alleged Russia connections, the person said, adding there was no contact with the Clinton campaign or Democrats regarding the passing along of the information.

In a criminal referral to the FBI released publicly this week, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) wrote: “It is troubling enough that the Clinton campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.”

The referral redacted the names of Messrs. Shearer, Winer, and Blumenthal, but a person familiar with the matter said that the letter from the senators refers to them.

The White House has a five-day window following the House Intelligence Committee’s Monday vote to approve the Democratic memo’s release, which House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and other Republican lawmakers have called for.

The White House has said Mr. Trump’s decision on the release and whether elements should be redacted will hinge on the recommendation of senior law-enforcement officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray. Mr. Trump met with Mr. Rosenstein on Tuesday to discuss the memo.

Democrats say their document is needed to correct misstatements and omissions in the GOP memo. According to people familiar with the warrant, the application for surveillance says the research was linked to people or groups with a political motivation or political affiliations. The Democratic memo is also expected to address what information beyond that collected by Mr. Steele was used in the warrant to monitor Mr. Page.

On Monday, after the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democratic document, the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), requested that any redactions made to the Democratic memo be “fully explained” by either the FBI or the Justice Department.

Mr. Page, who hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, had been on the radar of U.S. intelligence since 2013, when alleged Russian spies made an attempt to recruit him. He left Mr. Trump’s campaign in September 2016, a month before investigators sought a surveillance warrant on him.

The FBI publicly opposed the release of the GOP memo, citing “grave concerns” about its accuracy. Democrats have said the Republican document was an attempt to discredit a wide-ranging Justice Department probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The investigation is also looking into potential obstruction of justice by the president and his aides.

Mr. Trump has denied any obstruction or collusion and said the GOP memo “totally” vindicated him. In his first year in office, he has repeatedly attacked top officials at the FBI and Justice Department, including Mr. Rosenstein, whom he appointed.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

Appeared in the February 9, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Inclined to Clear Release of Memo.’

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