According to several law enforcement officials familiar with the matter, the White House asked the FBI to publicly “knock down” news stories about the Russian scandal currently dogging the administration.
The agency refused.
An administration official stated the reports were inaccurate.
The sources however said the White House had sought the FBI’s and other agencies’ assistance in dismissing those reports as wrong since there hadn’t been any communications with the Kremlin.
The New York Times published the story. Those reports led to Gen. Michael Flynn’ ouster and threw other former and current presidential aides in the hot seat.
The request is unusual as there is a decade-old federal restriction on cooperation between the bureau and the White House when it comes to an ongoing investigation. So, the request was a clear violation of these DOJ rules that limit communications.
On Thursday, Spicer said that the sources’ wording when they referred to the request was inaccurate.
We didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth,
Spicer told reporters.
The bureau declined to comment on the incident.
According to one of the law enforcement officials briefed on the matter, the backdoor discussions between the administration and the F.B.I. started a day after The Times published their story. Reportedly, the president’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus discussed the matter behind closed doors with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Originally, the White House dismissed the account as inaccurate, saying that McCabe was the one to first contact Priebus to tell him The Times story largely overstated the bureau’s findings.
Later, another White House official confirmed the FBI’s version of the story. He said that Priebus asked the FBI Director James Comey to deploy some of his men to discuss with reporters the stories. Sources say that McCabe didn’t dispute those stories but it is unclear what he told Priebus.
Comey reportedly refused to involve the agency in the scandal by issuing comments on the media stories. Comey cited an ongoing investigation into the alleged communications between Trump’s aides and Russian operatives.
Priebus at one point described The Times report as “complete garbage”. He noted that the newspaper failed to point to the direct sources of the revelations. He also said that “the top levels of the intelligence community” had told him that the report was “inaccurate” and “grossly overstated”.
However, despite Priebus’ claims people working with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees recently said that Congress started multiple investigations into those alleged ties to Russia. It is unclear whether Congress’ findings would be ever made public but the probes alone prove Capitol Hill too wants the truth about Trump’s White House.
Still, the Department of Justice barred the FBI from discussing with the White House a “pending or contemplated” investigation twice, in 2007 and 2009 respectively. According to DOJ rules, only the Attorney General or his deputy can contact the president, the VP, the Counsel to the President, or the Principal Deputy Counsel.
Moreover, such communications on an ongoing investigation are allowed only if they are important for the commander-in-chief’s duties and are deemed “appropriate” by the department.
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