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Trump blocks release of memo drafted by Democrats on Russia probe

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United States President Donald Trump has blocked the release of a classified memo drafted by Democrats that counters Republican allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

Key points:

  • The Justice Department says the memo could create "especially significant concerns" for national security, according to the White House
  • A week earlier, Mr Trump overruled FBI concerns about releasing a Republican memo
  • The House of Representatives voted unanimously to release the memo drafted by the panel's Democrats

The White House said the Justice Department had identified portions of the memo that "would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests" of the country.

A week earlier, Mr Trump overruled objections from the Federal Bureau of Investigation about releasing the Republican memo that took aim at senior law enforcement officials.

The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the 10-page document drafted by the panel's Democrats, contingent on the Republican President agreeing to reclassify it.

President Trump speaks about declassifying memo

Mr Trump allowed the release of the earlier memo written by the committee's Republicans, escalating a campaign criticising current and former senior law enforcement officials.

Democrats said the Republican memo mischaracterised highly sensitive classified information and was intended to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of potential collusion between Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Mr Mueller is also investigating whether Mr Trump has committed obstruction of justice in trying to impede the Russia probe.

'The memo contains especially sensitive passages'

Mr Trump met with officials from the Justice Department, White House Counsel's Office and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, to get their input on the Democratic memo, the White House said.

"Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5 memorandum, because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time," White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House panel.

The White House also released a letter sent to Mr McGahn by Mr Wray and to Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, expressing concerns about the memo's release "in light of longstanding principles regarding the protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and other similar sensitive information".

Trump claims Republican document 'totally vindicates' him

The Republican memo portrayed the Russia investigation as a product of political bias at the FBI and Justice Department against Mr Trump.

The President said the document "totally vindicates" him in the Russia investigation, a claim disputed by Democrats and some Republicans.

Democrats last week warned Mr Trump against using the Republican memo as a pretext to fire Mr Rosenstein, who hired Mr Mueller and oversees the investigation, or to remove Mr Mueller himself.

The Republican memo singled out Mr Rosenstein and several other officials by name, including former FBI director James Comey, who Mr Trump fired in May 2017, as the agency investigated the Russia matter.

Mr Mueller took over the investigation from the FBI.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign using hacking and propaganda, an effort that eventually included attempting to tilt the race in Mr Trump's favour.

Russia denies interfering in the election and Mr Trump denies collusion with Moscow.

Reuters

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