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Schiff says top intel body sought to give transcripts to White House for "signoff"

Trump and Congress clash over investigations

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which heads the U.S. intelligence community and is currently conducting a classification review of dozens of the committee's Russia investigation transcripts, sought to release the materials to the White House for "signoff" before returning them to the committee. 

According to the transcript of a business meeting the committee held Monday, Schiff said the committee's Democratic majority was "deeply distressed" to learn that ODNI had attempted to give the transcripts to the White House "for some form of a review or signoff" before returning them to the committee. 

"It is not the purview of the president or anyone in the White House to be making decisions about what the Intelligence Committee releases of its own interviews, and we cannot countenance that kind of potential interference by the White House," Schiff said, according to the meeting transcript. He did not specify which or how many transcripts ODNI might have sought to relay to the White House, nor did he disclose how he learned of the effort.  

A Democratic committee official echoed Schiff's concerns, stressing that the transcripts are the "property of the committee" and that the committee had "made clear" to ODNI that the transcripts "should not be shared with the White House." 

"Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and the ODNI is on notice that providing the president or his legal team access to the transcripts, without committee authorization, is unacceptable and highly improper," the official said.

But an ODNI spokesperson said it was following its standard practice — to coordinate with any agencies or entities, including the National Security Council or the White House, that might have a stake in the materials in question — and that it had been "up front" with the committee about that process since it began. 

ODNI regularly consults with the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community and would likewise have offered them the opportunity to review a given transcript for potential redactions.

The committee voted in late September to publicly release the transcripts of more than 50 witness interviews it conducted over the course of its year-long investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Prior to public release, virtually all of the transcripts, an estimated thousands of pages in total, were submitted to ODNI for a classification review. 

That process has stretched on for months, though members from both parties have said the interviews contain little classified information. 

At Monday's meeting, the committee voted to publicly release the transcripts of two interviews with President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who most recently appeared before the committee in February and March. 

The meeting transcript indicates growing frustration on the part of its Republican and Democrat members with the length of ODNI's review. 

But even while decrying the review process as "unbearably slow," Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, objected to the Cohen transcripts' release, arguing they could contain classified information and should first be submitted to ODNI. 

Democrats insisted Cohen did not have access to classified information. 

"Based on the thorough review process of a lay witness who has never served in the government, further review by ODNI is unnecessary and, I think we have already seen, will cause undue delay," Schiff said. "The ODNI has had half a year to do a simple declassification review and still has not completed it." 

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