The White House is admitting that it discussed with the FBI media reports that Trump campaign officials were in contact with Russian intelligence agents and that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to publicly knock down the story.
FBI Director James Comey refused.
The administration is pushing back on a CNN report that White House officials “sought the help.”
A senior administration official told reporters Friday morning that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe asked to speak to Priebus on Feb. 15 and told him the report in the New York Times about Russia contacts was inaccurate.
Priebus had first been approached by McCabe after a meeting in Priebus’ office on another matter, according to the official. McCabe told Priebus the New York Times story was wrong, and then Priebus asked McCabe, “What can we do about this?” the official said. Later, according to the official, McCabe called Priebus and told him the FBI “would love to help but we can’t get into the position of making statements on every story.”
The official said Comey later reached out to Priebus and said “the story was garbage.”
According to the official, Comey told Priebus, “We’d love to help,” but that the bureau wouldn’t “get into issuing a statement.”
The official said Priebus got clearance from Comey to say publicly that “intelligence officials” told him the Times‘ story was inaccurate.
Last weekend on Fox News Sunday, Priebus said: “The New York Times put out an article with no direct 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.”
NPR has reached out to the FBI for comment.
According to a 2009 memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice, including the FBI, should advise the White House on pending investigations “only when it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
President Trump meanwhile tweeted Friday morning that the FBI is “totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time” and “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.”