The political row over the memo Donald Trump ordered be released has renewed calls for him to publish his tax returns, in light of the apparent new-found desire for a culture of transparency at the White House.
The President’s decision on Friday to approve the declassification of a Republican-authored memo that alleges the Justice Department and FBI inappropriately spied on a member of the Trump campaign, is in stark contrast to his stance on potentially damaging documents on himself.
Defending the decision to release the memo, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday: “Transparency can reign supreme.”
Trump is the first President in four decades to refuse to publish his tax returns. They are currently under heavy guard by the Inland Revenue Service (IRS).
Outgoing IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, told Politico last year: “It’s in a locked cabinet in a locked room that nobody’s in. You’ll need a key to the room and the cabinet to get it.
“We’re in the process of turning that cabinet into a safe. We keep all the returns from every President in there.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump claimed he would release his tax returns when they had been “audited”.
He has still refused to do so and has not mentioned them since April of last year.
In addition the White House has:
Hidden previously public visitor logs since last year
Not given the names of foreign governments and officials who have stayed at Trump’s private properties - at US taxpayer expense
Refused to disclose relationships between the Trump Organisation and foreign businesses
But the President has had no such qualms about releasing the GOP memo. Speaking shortly after it was made public, he said:
I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country... A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.
On Saturday he tweeted:
The memo has been hyped by Republicans for weeks as “worse than Watergate,” but is largely a damp squib and Trump observers see it as an attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign at a time when his investigation zeroes in on key figures in his inner circle.
HuffPost’s Jessica Schulberg and Ryan J. Reilly wrote:
“The resulting document is boring and tendentious, and it’s hard to understand why Republicans were so excited to get it out and why the FBI and Democrats were so determined to keep it secret. It’s such a dud that it was probably more valuable to Republicans when it was still a secret document.”
Despited ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ being dramatically stamped across the bottom of the memo, it actually contains virtually nothing that was not already known.
It contains inaccurate statements full of mischaracterisations and key omissions and its central premise, that there was an anti-Republican conspiracy within the FBI, is at odds with the fact that the most of the main players it seeks to discredit are themselves Republicans, many of them appointed by Trump himself.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday: “The memorandum raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI to use the Government’s most intrusive surveillance tools against American citizens.”
But a tweet from Sanders in 2016 hints at how the sentiments of those surrounding the President can drastically change.
FBI Director Christopher Wray sent a message to bureau employees apparently aimed at boosting morale after the memo’s release. “I stand by our shared determination to do our work independently and by the book,” Wray said in the message, excerpts of which were seen by Reuters.
MORE ON THE MEMO:
The memo focused on court-approved surveillance of Carter Page, the former campaign advisor, and said the FBI used a source who was strongly biased against Trump, former British spy Christopher Steele, to justify the action.
It alleged that a dossier of alleged Trump-Russia contacts compiled by Steele, and funded in part by US Democrats, formed an “essential part” of requests to a special court to be allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on Page that began in October 2016.
It said the initial application and subsequent renewal applications, signed off on by various senior Justice Department officials, did not mention the link between Steele and the Democrats. It also portrayed Steele as “passionate” about Trump not becoming President.
Despite the memo’s charges, neither the focus on Page nor the FBI’s investigation of Trump-Russia ties began with the Steele dossier. Page came to the FBI’s attention as early as 2013, when he met in New York with Russians who were officers of the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence service, sources have said.
Despite this, Trump supporters gleefully declared it a victory with some even claiming it was “bigger that Watergate”.
The memo acknowledges that the FBI counterintelligence investigation began in July 2016, three months before the request for electronic surveillance on Page, as a result of the activities of another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had political dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, information Australian officials passed to the US government, the New York Times reported in December.
“The selective release and politicisation of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies,” House intelligence committee Democrats said in a statement.
House intelligence committee Democrats said they hoped the panel would vote on Monday to release their own memo responding to the allegations. Shah, the White House spokesman, told CNN Trump “would be inclined” to let that memo be released if it clears a security and legal review.
Meanwhile, on by Saturday, the whole saga had spawned the entertaining #YoMemoJokes.