FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories
Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, Manu Raju, Pamela Brown, CNN, Feb 24 2017
FASCHINGSTEIN – The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to them during the 2016 presidential campaign, Deputy Director A McCabe claims to CNN. But the White House said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate. The White House sought the help of the FBI to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts. The reports (on trhe contacts) were first published by the NYT and CNN on Feb 14. The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of supposed ‘decade-old restrictions’ on such contacts, said MCCabe, and such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations. The discussions between the White House and the FBI began with McCabe and Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, said McCabe. The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said the NYT story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But the White House later corrected their version of events to confirm what McCabe had said. The White House said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and Comey, asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. McCabe says he didn’t discuss aspects of the case, but wouldn’t say exactly what he told Priebus. Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, claimed McCabe, because the alleged communications are the subject of an ongoing investigation. The White House did issue its own denial (on Feb 14), with Priebus calling the NYT story “complete garbage.” Preibus said on Fox News Sunday last weekend:
The NYT put out an article with no
directnamed sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you, and I have been approved to say this, that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.
CNN has previously reported that there was constant communication between high-level advisers to Trump, Russian officials and other Russians known to US intelligence during the summer of 2016. Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees tell CNN that the congressional investigations are continuing into those alleged Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, despite Priebus’ assertion that there is nothing to those reports. It is uncertain what the committees will eventually find and whether any of the information will ever be declassified and publicly released. But the push to investigate further shows that Capitol Hill is digging deeper into areas that may not be comfortable for the White House. The Trump administration’s efforts to press Comey run contrary to DoJ ‘procedure memos’ issued in 2007 and 2009 that limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI. The 2009 memo reads:
Initial communications between the [DoJ] and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House.
The memos say the communication should only happen when it is important for the President’s duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective. A DoJ spox said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing the memos and that “the Department is following the guidelines in its communications with the White House.” The White House and the FBI declined to comment publicly for this story. The effort to refute the CNN and NYT stories came as increasing numbers of congressional members were voicing concern about Russia’s efforts to influence individuals with ties to Trump. On Feb 17, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a briefing with Comey. It’s unclear what was said, but senators suggested there was new information discussed about Russia. Sen James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the committee:
Every briefing we go through we gain new information.
Lankford declined to be more specific about the briefing. Sen Angus King of Maine also declined to reveal what was discussed during the Comey briefing. In response to a question on Priebus’ strong denial of the claims, King said he was “surprised” that Priebus would be “that categorical.” Rep Eric Swalwell of California, a Demagog member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of his panel’s inquiry is to follow “leads wherever they go even if they may be uncomfortable to Republicans.” Swalwell said:
The Pindo sheeple will want to know if the President had personal or financial ties to the Russian government.