Trump ad­viser asked FBI to dis­pute Rus­sia re­ports

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JULIE PACE

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 cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to three White House of­fi­cials who con­firmed the un­usual con­tact with law en­force­ment in­volved in a pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The of­fi­cials said that Priebus’s 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 calls be­tween Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and peo­ple in­volved with Trump’s pres­i­den­tial run.

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.

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.

House Demo­cratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ac­cused Priebus of com­mit­ting “an out­ra­geous breach of the FBI’s in­de­pen­dence.” She called on the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral to open a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion into all con­ver­sa­tions Priebus and other White House of­fi­cials have held with the FBI on on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

A 2009 memo from then-at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric Holder said the Jus­tice Depart­ment is to ad­vise the White House on pend­ing crim­i­nal or civil in­ves­ti­ga­tions “only when it is im­por­tant for the per­for­mance of the pres­i­dent’s du­ties and ap­pro­pri­ate from a law en­force- ment per­spec­tive.”

When com­mu­ni­ca­tion has to oc­cur, the memo said, it should in­volve only the high­est-level of­fi­cials from the White House and the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

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,” Trump tweeted. “Clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion is be­ing given to me­dia that could have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on U.S. FIND NOW.”

Trump has been shad­owed by ques­tions about po­ten­tial ties to Rus­sia since win­ning the elec­tion. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have also con­cluded that Rus­sia med­dled in the cam­paign to help Trump de­feat Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Last week, Trump fired na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn be­cause he mis­led Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and other White House of­fi­cials about his con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the United States.

Flynn, who was in­ter­viewed by the FBI about his con­tacts, is said to have talked with the am­bas­sador mul­ti­ple times dur­ing the tran­si­tion, in­clud­ing a dis­cus­sion about U.S. sanc­tions pol­icy.

Still, Trump and his ad­vis­ers have de­nied hav­ing had con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. Last week, Trump said “no­body that I know of ” spoke with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agents dur­ing the cam­paign.

SU­SAN WALSH, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is ac­cused of breach­ing the FBI’s in­de­pen­dence.

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