By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday the White House and FBI wanted too much information kept from the public in a still-secret Democratic memo related to probes of Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election.
But panel members were in “good discussions” with the FBI on declassifying the document, and hoped to resolve the issue “very soon,” Representative Adam Schiff told reporters.
Infuriating Democrats, President Donald Trump blocked release of the Democrats’ memo on Friday, although he had disregarded objections by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and allowed the publication of a Republican memo just a week earlier.
The Democrats’ document is intended to rebut the Republican memo, which alleges bias against Republicans by FBI and Justice Department officials as they obtained a warrant allowing surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser.
Schiff said it appeared the FBI had labeled as classified everything in the memo that had not already been released to the public.
If the document is changed significantly, the committee might need to vote again on whether to release it, sending it for another review by Trump.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign in an attempt to tilt the race in Trump’s favor, a finding that has spawned investigations into any ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Russia denies interfering in the election. Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.
The House Intelligence panel is conducting one of three main congressional investigations, along with a criminal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The dispute over the memos has been raging for weeks, which many lawmakers deem a distraction from the investigations.
Even as the probes continue, top intelligence officials said on Tuesday that mid-term elections in November, which will determine whether Trump’s fellow Republicans maintain control of Congress, are already being targeted by Moscow, including using social media.
Schiff, speaking at a breakfast with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, said the committee was continuing to press social media companies to “be transparent” about advertisements taken out by foreign operatives.
He also said there are dozens of witnesses who still need to be interviewed in his panel’s Russia probe, and others who had refused to respond to questions and should be compelled to respond.
One witness who has declined to answer, former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, is expected to appear before the panel again on Thursday, committee sources said.
“Right now there are too many witnesses under the impression that if they just say, ‘I’m here voluntarily and I refuse to answer those questions,’ the committee will just say, ‘that’s fine, have a nice day,'” Schiff said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)