White House Sets Meeting With GOP on Informer
Posted May 22, 2018 9:45 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Top intelligence and law enforcement officials will meet on Thursday with Republican congressional leaders to share highly classified information related to an FBI informant who contacted members of the Trump campaign in the early days of the Russia investigation, a White House official said Tuesday.
But even those few details prompted confusion around Washington, with a Justice Department official refusing to confirm the White House’s announced guest list and Democrats on Capitol Hill complaining they were not invited.
The meeting promised to be a flash point in the standoff pitting President Donald Trump and his congressional allies against his own administration’s top law enforcement officials.
At the root of the dispute is a subpoena by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the House Intelligence Committee chairman, for all documents referencing or related to the informant, an American academic who met on behalf of the FBI with Trump associates.
Top law enforcement and intelligence officials initially refused the request, saying disclosure would put the source at risk and endanger key intelligence partnerships. Nunes, who has pushed for greater and greater access to sensitive case files, did not like that answer and threatened to hold the attorney general and his deputy in contempt of Congress.
That was before Trump waded into the fray over the weekend, publicly ordering the Justice Department to investigate the FBI’s use of the informant and all but siding with Nunes and his allies.
His demand prompted an outcry over whether he was assailing the long-standing independence of the Justice Department to gain information about the investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election interference. Democrats have long accused Nunes, a close ally of the president, of exploiting his oversight role to undermine the inquiry.
The White House stepped in, ostensibly to mediate the dispute. The Thursday meeting will include Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI; Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence; and Edward O’Callaghan, a top Justice Department official, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.
Absent from her list was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Russia investigation and who has tangled extensively with Nunes. It was unclear why he was not included, and Justice Department officials would not confirm who planned to attend the meeting.
It likewise remained unclear how much information the department would hand over, in what form and whether it would satisfy Nunes — who has indicated that nothing short of the department’s opening its files would satisfy him.
Sanders said no one from the White House staff would attend the meeting.
But on Capitol Hill, the arrangement still prompted only confusion and complaints from Democrats, who had yet to hear whether they would receive an invitation to an identical briefing.
Sanders said, “To my knowledge, the Democrats have not requested that information, so I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they’ve never asked to.”
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said that he would prefer to sit in alongside Nunes but that he had been told by department officials that the chairman refused to allow it.
He added: “I don’t think any of us have any idea what the White House is doing.”
When asked to comment on the meeting by reporters, Nunes said he did not discuss committee business with reporters. Then, he suggested the reporters watch his Sunday television appearances, where he frequently discusses committee business.