Just days after ordering the controversial declassification of materials related to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, President Donald Trump in a sweeping and quick reversal of an order has put the release of the documents on hold.
In a pair of Friday morning tweets, Trump said he had met with the Justice Department concerning declassification of unredacted documents from the Russia investigation.
Federal law enforcement officials were reluctant to release material from an ongoing investigation, including part of a secret court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
Also of deep concern to officials is the declassification of the interviews conducted for the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"The odds that a high-level resignation threat (Wray, Rosenstein?) wasn't behind this are slim to none," tweeted Ned Price, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, who was a spokesman for the National Security Council in the preceding administration of Barack Obama.
There has been no comment from either Christopher Wray, who is the director of the FBI, or Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversees the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
"The president continues to project a rudimentary understanding of his authority and how government bureaucracy actually works," according to Bradley Moss, an attorney specializing in national security matters and the deputy executive director of the James Madison Project. "He effectively ordered the declassification of materials and then retracted it mere days later, deferring to the inspector general to handle the tasks, something the IG never does."
The president also has ordered the public release of text messages exchanged among several former high-level Justice Department and FBI officials.
In the end, if the inspector general — already looking into how the special counsel's investigation has been handled — does not reach a conclusion Trump desires, the president in his Friday tweets indicated he will override the review process and again move to declassify the materials.
"This isn't declassification in the interest of transparency or national security," Moss told VOA. "This is declassification by personal whim."
The top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Adam Schiff, says Trump has acknowledged strenuous objections by the Justice Department and U.S. allies, and that the president already had known "the release of these documents would cross a 'red line,' potentially compromising sources and methods and hindering the investigation."
Schiff added that Trump, the White House Counsel and his personal lawyers are still seeking access to the material "for the corrupt purpose of discrediting the Special Counsel — we cannot allow that."