The Department of Justice and the FBI held two classified meetings with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives and the heads of the chambers’ intelligence panels, after the president demanded a probe into allegations of infiltration into his team, a potential scandal Trump has branded “SPYGATE.”
US media have reported that the FBI sent an informant to gather possible evidence that Trump campaign advisors had suspicious contacts with Russia.
Democrats have warned that Trump’s fixation on the issue — he has tweeted about it repeatedly — suggests he is attempting to undermine the year-old investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with his campaign.
An initial Thursday briefing at the Department of Justice was intended to be only for Republicans, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
But after outcry from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the panel’s top Democrat Adam Schiff was allowed to attend.
The action then shifted to the US Capitol where Federal Bureau of Investigation director Chris Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Russia investigation, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats helped brief the so-called Gang of Eight.
The intelligence grouping consists of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, top intelligence Democrat Mark Warner, Nunes and Schiff.
Democrats said the meetings were conducted in part to assure lawmakers that no intelligence sources or methods were exposed while probing whether an FBI informant spoke with Trump campaign advisers in 2016.
“Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols,” the Democrats said in a joint statement.
Trump’s lead lawyer countering Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly were also allowed to attend the opening of both briefings, a move Democrats decried as a disturbing breach of protocol.
“I’ve never seen a Gang of Eight meeting that included any presence from the White House,” Warner told reporters, clarifying that the individuals left before classified substance was discussed.
Trump and his supporters have cast the apparent informant as a mole possibly sent by the Obama administration to burrow into his campaign. —AFP