MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now, President Trump cleared the way for the release of this memo when he declassified it earlier today. Trump said what the memo reveals is, quote, "terrible."
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. And when you look at that and you see that and so many other things, what's going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.
KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now for more. Hey there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: Hi. So we just were listening to Democrat Adam Schiff there talking about how much - how unhappy he is with this memo. The FBI director was opposed to the memo, says he has grave concerns about it. Given all of that, do we know why President Trump so wanted to have this out there, have it be made public?
KEITH: Well, here's the official word. In a letter, the White House counsel, Don McGahn, says the president determined that declassification of the memo was appropriate, quote, "in light of the significant public interest in the memorandum" and because that interest into disclosure outweighed any need to protect the information. And both the White House and Republican leaders say that there are legitimate questions to ask about whether surveillance of U.S. citizens is being properly carried out and whether that system, which is quite secretive, is working as intended.
But, you know, here's the other thing - this memo also seems very well designed to push the narrative that the investigation into the Trump campaign and ties to Russian interference in the election is all just this political witch hunt that President Trump has called a witch hunt.
KELLY: Let me turn you to the relationship between President Trump and some of the people who work for him. This morning, he tweeted - and I'm going to quote - "the top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans." So - end quote - that's the president's tweet, which prompts me to ask you - do we know whether the president has any plans to act on the leadership of the FBI and the Justice Department with whom he's apparently pretty unhappy?
KEITH: Yeah. So many of the names in this memo of Justice Department and FBI officials that were involved, they're already gone or have been moved into different positions. One person who is named in this memo and still has his job is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. And he is a key player in the Russia investigation because after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, Rosenstein began overseeing it, and then he later appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel. So today reporters shouted questions to President Trump about whether he has confidence in Rosenstein.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does it make you more likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?
TRUMP: You figure that one out.
KEITH: So you figure that one out.
KELLY: OK, well, you figure that one out, Tamara Keith. What's he mean by that?
KEITH: Well, we can't really know for sure what he means. But some context - a few months ago, I shouted this same question - do you have confidence in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? And the president's response was firm and fast. Yes, absolutely I have confidence. Tillerson is still secretary of state. But when Trump has been asked this same question about other people - Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, all former members of his administration - he's offered noncommittal answers like what he said today about Rosenstein.
KELLY: Yeah, different versions of you figure it out.
KEITH: Yeah. I followed up with the White House, said, what does this mean? And they said, when the president no longer has confidence in someone, you'll know.
KELLY: Real quick, Tam - do we know whether the president supports the Democratic memo coming out? Has he weighed in on that?
KEITH: Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that they realize that there is this other memo and that the administration stands ready to work with Congress to accommodate oversight requests consistent with applicable standards, including the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.
KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.