Dems alarmed when WH lawyer shows up at classified briefing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump's campaign.
Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday's briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned "nothing particularly surprising," but declined to go into detail.
Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump's GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump's personal and political defense.
Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.
"For the record, the president's chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president's campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing," Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.
The White House said the officials didn't attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the "president's desire for as much openness as possible under the law" and relaying "the president's understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government," according to a statement.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.
Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it "spygate" and tweeting Thursday that it was "Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history."
It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn't say what he learned, but said he loo