FBI officials refused a White House request to shoot down news stories alleging that Donald Trump associates communicated with Russian government officials during the campaign, CNN is reporting.
If true — and the White House is denying the claims — the requests would appear to violate memos released in 2007 and 2009 limiting contact between the White House and FBI regarding criminal investigations.
According to unnamed federal officials, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe last week if the bureau would publicly combat reports from The New York Times and CNN that several former Trump aides had contacts with Russian officials.
According to the reports, published on Feb. 14, federal investigators are reviewing communications between several former Trump campaign advisers and Russian government officials.
The reports noted that federal investigators have not found any evidence that the Trump associates coordinated with the Russian officials on the election. The former aides, identified as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and outside adviser Roger Stone, have all denied being in contact with Kremlin officials during the campaign.
Stone and Manafort have denied ever being in contact with Kremlin officials.
The White House has called the reports “garbage.”
According to CNN, Priebus and McCabe discussed the news reports following a White House meeting the day after they were published.
A White House official disputed that account, according to CNN. The official said that McCabe called Priebus earlier that day saying that the Times report “vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts.”
“The White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. A law enforcement official says McCabe didn’t discuss aspects of the case but wouldn’t say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.”
Comey refused the request to talk to reporters on background because of the ongoing investigation, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Days after the supposed request, Priebus said in Sunday talk show interviews that he had been informed by the “top levels of the intelligence community” that the stories were “grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong.”
A Justice Department memo from 2009 says that the White House and FBI should only be in contact regarding pending criminal investigations when it is required for the president’s duties. Otherwise, contact should only occur between the White House and top officials at the Justice Department.
“Initial communications between the [Justice] Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House,” the memo reads, according to CNN.