Trump Backpedals on Declassification of Russia Docs

WASHINGTON (CN) – Retreating from his order earlier this week to declassify documents on the Russia probe, President Trump tweeted Friday that he now wants to sit on the information at the advice of Justice Department officials and allies.

He said declassification remains on the table, however, certain that the documents will discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election.

Trump has long railed against the investigation, repeatedly calling it a “witch hunt,” and claims internal bias at the Justice Department has sought to undermine his campaign and now his presidency.

The president’s Friday tweets meanwhile show deference to the Justice Department, saying that officials there believe that declassification could harm the perception of Mueller’s investigation.

Trump said that in lieu of releasing the materials outright, he has called for an expedited review by the Justice Department inspector general. Other tasks before the inspector general include a broad investigation of how the agency handled the Russia probe and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump tweeted. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release. Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me – and everyone!”

Trump issued the declassification order on Monday, telling the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release certain portions of the June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application for Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and interviews conducted in relation to the application.

Trump also ordered released FBI interviews with Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr concerning the Russia investigation.

Ohr, whose wife worked for the firm that hired ex-British spy Christopher Steele to compile the 35-page Trump dossier, had numerous contact with Steele.

The president’s Republican allies have seized on this overlap to place Ohr at the center of their effort to discredit the Mueller investigation as biased.

Trump also had ordered the release of unredacted text messages from other Justice Department officials about the probe, including Ohr, former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI director Andrew McCabe, and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Evidence that Strzok and Page exchanged messages that were critical of Trump during the 2016 election led Mueller to remove Strzok from the Russia probe. Even though the inspector general did not find any evidence that bias impacted the outcome of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, Republicans have seized on the text messages to bolster the president’s claim of bias at the agency.

Earlier this month, House Republicans had called on the president to declassify the materials, which Trump acknowledged during an interview with the Hill on Tuesday.

But later in the interview president hinted that Fox News figures played a role in persuading him to order the text messages to be released.

“I have been asked by so many people that I respect, please – the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful, great Jeanine Pirro,” the president had said.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment about the president’s Friday tweets reversing course on his declassification order.

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