Officials: Trump adviser asked FBI to dispute Russia reports
Published 10:31 am Friday, February 24, 2017
WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, according to three White House officials who confirmed the unusual contact with law enforcement involved in a pending investigation.
The officials said that Priebus’ Feb. 15 request to FBI Director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe came as the White House sought to discredit a New York Times report about contacts between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
As of Friday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity of the report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request.
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The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity. Two hours later, Trump panned news stories that rely on anonymous sources, telling a conservative conference that reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”
White House officials said it was the FBI that first raised concerns about the Times reporting, but told Priebus the bureau could not weigh in publicly on the matter. The officials said McCabe and Comey instead gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story publicly, something the FBI has not confirmed.
CNN first reported that Priebus had asked the FBI for help, and a White House official confirmed the matter to The Associated Press Thursday night. On Friday morning, two other senior White House officials summoned reporters to a hastily arranged briefing to expand on the timeline of events.
The officials said Priebus had a previously scheduled meeting with McCabe the morning after the Times story was published. Priebus and Comey then spoke later in the day, the officials said in a highly unusual accounting of the White House’s discussions with FBI officials.
Earlier Friday, Trump accused the FBI of being “totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time.”
“They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW,” Trump tweeted.
Priebus’ discussions sparked outrage among some Democrats, who said that the chief of staff was violating policies intended to limit communications between the law enforcement agency and the White House on pending investigations.
“The White House is simply not permitted to pressure the FBI to make public statements about a pending investigation of the president and his advisers,” said Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.