Following President Donald Trump’s Twitter meltdown over the FBI supposedly “spying” on his 2016 presidential campaign on behalf of former President Barack Obama, officials from the Justice Department and a group of bipartisan lawmakers met to discuss the intelligence agency’s use of an informant to investigate the possible collusion between Russia and Trump campaign.
These highly classified meetings were only supposed to involve Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and the Gang of Eight – a group consisting of the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate and the Republican and Democratic leaders of the intelligence committees.
However, these briefings also featured two highly unlikely guests whose presence only raised questions about the confidentiality (and purpose) of such meetings.
According to the reports, president’s lawyer Emmet Flood and White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly attended both meetings.
The first meeting was held at the Department of Justice and included House Speaker Paul Ryan, Rosenstein, Wray, Coats, Gowdy and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes – who was temporarily forced to step aside from overseeing the Russia investigation over disclosure of classified information.
A ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, was later invited over concerns the meeting being partisan.
The second meeting with the Group of Eight took place at the Capitol Hill.
Given the highly sensitive nature of these briefings and the fact the investigation focuses on Trump’s own campaign, many people found the presence of Trump aides’ rather mind boggling – including Schiff.
“Emmet Flood’s presence and statement at the outset of both meetings today was completely inappropriate … his involvement – in any capacity – was entirely improper, and I made this clear to him,” Schiff said.
It is completely inappropriate for a lawyer representing a subject of the investigation to attend the congressional oversight meeting in which nonpublic information about the investigation was revealed. What possible legitimate purpose could his attendance have served? https://t.co/4TdMvPF5AZ— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) May 24, 2018
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.— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) May 24, 2018
“This is an investigation centering squarely around the president and his cohorts,” a former FBI official told The Business Insider. “And we've got the president's chief of staff attending a classified briefing — and getting sensitive intelligence — about said investigation. It's a f****** circus.”
A former attorney in the Justice Department’s National Security Division echoed similar views.
“It creates the appearance that the briefing was set up for the purpose of the defense team learning what was going on in the investigation,” Carrie Cordero told The Daily Beast. “That’s the optics of it. Whether or not that is really what’s happening, we don’t exactly know. But I can’t think of any positive reason for him having been there.”
She also said the Justice Department appeared to have held the meetings to satisfy the commander-in-chief.
“I think that this is the House intel chair working with the president to discredit the investigation,” Cordero added. “So I think the DOJ held this meeting to in some ways placate the White House and prevent the president from taking further action that would be more disruptive. But I haven’t seen anything revealed that gives any credence to the allegation that the FBI did anything inappropriate by using this confidential source.”
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to downplay Flood and Kelly’s attendance in a statement.
“Neither Chief Kelly nor Mr. Flood actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meetings started to relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law,” it read. “They also conveyed the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government.”
It is important to mention the two were seen leaving the Justice Department and Capitol Hill at the end of the respective meetings.
Interestingly, Trump’s longtime friend and current legal adviser, Rudy Giuliani, gave the impression the White House was trying to glean as much information as it can about the investigation into the Trump campaign.
“We want to see how the briefing went to today and how much we learned from it,” the former New York mayor told Politico, referring to how he’s deciding whether or not Trump will sit for an interview with Mueller. “If we learned a good deal from it, it will shorten that whole process considerably.”
By the looks of it, the Trump administration is forgoing protocols (and ethics) to monitor the investigation into president’s ties with a foreign government – and that’s extremely problematic.
As far as the reason behind the briefings was concerned, Schiff said he saw no evidence of wrongdoing by the FBI.
“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,” he told reporters.
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