By Susan Heavey and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said documents from the federal Russia probe would not immediately be released, just days after he ordered them to be made public, citing concerns by the U.S. Justice Department that doing so could harm the investigation.
Trump, on Twitter, said the department’s inspector general would review the documents “on an expedited basis” and would “move quickly.”
“In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary,” Trump wrote, after earlier demanding the release of documents in the ongoing investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Representatives for the department’s Office of the Inspector General did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, welcomed Trump’s remarks.
“Thankfully it seems that saner minds have prevailed, at least for the time being. This underscores why the President should be relying on the expertise and advice of intelligence and law enforcement professionals, not cable news hosts,” Warner told Reuters via email.
Trump had called for the documents’ declassification on Monday in his latest effort to cast doubt on the probe, which has loomed over his presidency. The move prompted sharp criticism from Democrats and others that Trump was abusing his power and that he and his allies were politicizing the probe to protect the White House just weeks before November’s congressional elections.
Trump has denied colluding with Russia and Moscow has denied meddling in the 2016 election, though major U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered.
In his Tweet, Trump said he met with Justice Department officials about the documents, and that Justice officials said releasing the material “may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.”
“Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release,” he wrote.
Among the documents Trump wants to release are parts of an application to a special court for electronic surveillance of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and three applications for renewal of the surveillance.
In July, the Justice Department and FBI made public heavily redacted versions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court applications involving Page.
Cryptic clues in these reports indicate that a key FBI informant, identified as Source#1, is in fact Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who compiled a controversial “Dossier” charting alleged Trump links to Russia.
People familiar with Steele’s career and the British government’s views said Britain was indeed concerned that its official secrets could be revealed if too much of the surveillance application material were declassified and released.
On Twitter, Trump wrote that he believed Justice Inspector Michael Horowitz “will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at).”
While it was unclear what Trump was referring to, a source with knowledge of the matter said Horowitz’s office also is conducting a review of the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation on Trump campaign associates’ ties to Russia, which began in July 2016.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch, Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Dan Grebler)