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WH Asked FBI to Dispute Russia Reports 02/24 06:11

   White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked a top FBI official to 
dispute media reports that President Donald Trump's campaign advisers were 
frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, a 
White House official says.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked a top FBI 
official to dispute media reports that President Donald Trump's campaign 
advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the 
election, a White House official says.

   The official said that Priebus' request came after the FBI told the White 
House it believed a New York Times report last week describing those contacts 
was not accurate. As of Thursday, the FBI had not stated that position publicly 
and there was no indication it planned to.

   The New York Times reported that U.S. agencies had intercepted phone calls 
last year between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump's 2016 
campaign team.

   Priebus' discussion with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe sparked outrage 
among some Democrats, who said that the chief of staff was violating policies 
intended to limit communications between the law enforcement agency and the 
White House on pending investigations.

   "The White House is simply not permitted to pressure the FBI to make public 
statements about a pending investigation of the president and his advisers," 
said Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary 
Committee.

   A 2009 memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice 
Department is to advise the White House on pending criminal or civil 
investigations "only when it is important for the performance of the 
president's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective." When 
communication has to occur, the memo said, it should involve only the 
highest-level officials from the White House and the Justice Department.

   The White House official would not comment when asked if the administration 
was concerned about the appropriateness of Priebus' communications with McCabe. 
The official was not authorized to disclose the matter publicly and insisted on 
anonymity.

   The FBI would not say whether it had contacted the White House about the 
veracity of the Times report.

   CNN first reported that Priebus had asked the FBI to weigh in on the matter.

   Trump has been shadowed by questions about potential ties to Russia since 
winning the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded that 
Russia meddled in the campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

   Last week, Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn because he 
misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his 
contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Flynn, who was interviewed by 
the FBI about his contacts, is said to have talked with the ambassador multiple 
times during the transition, including a discussion about U.S. sanctions policy.

   Still, Trump and his advisers have denied contacts with Russian officials 
during the election. Last week, Trump said "nobody that I know of" spoke with 
Russian intelligence agents during the campaign.

   Priebus alluded to his contacts with the FBI over the weekend, telling Fox 
News that "the top levels of the intelligence community" have assured him that 
the allegations of campaign contacts with Russia were "not only grossly 
overstated, but also wrong."

   Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Priebus' comments opened the door for FBI 
Director James Comey to discuss the bureau's investigation publicly.

   "If the White House chief of staff can make public claims about the supposed 
conclusions of an FBI investigation, then Director Comey can come clean with 
the American people," Wyden said.

   Justin Shur, a former Justice Department public corruption prosecutor, said 
it was imperative that Justice Department investigations not be swayed by 
political considerations.

   "As a general matter, investigations and prosecutions should be about 
gathering the facts and the evidence and applying the law," Shur said.

   During the campaign, Trump and other Republicans vigorously criticized a 
meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill 
Clinton, husband of Trump's general election opponent. The meeting came as the 
FBI --- which is overseen by the Justice Department --- was investigating 
Hillary Clinton's use of a private email address and personal internet server.


(KA)

 
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