White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to publicly knock down media reports about alleged communications that took place between President Donald Trump's associates and Russians during the U.S. presidential election campaign, a White House official said Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
Multiple U.S. officials, who've been briefed on the issue, told CNN that several other White House officials had also been asking the FBI to say publicly that the previous media reports about the communications were wrong but the bureau refused to do so. Priebus' request came after the FBI indicated to the White House that it believed a New York Times report last week describing those contacts was inaccurate, the AP reported.
The request from the White House could be considered a violation of procedures under decade-old restrictions on such direct communications with the FBI. Democrats criticized the request. "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," Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said.
Priebus' discussions with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe began after the New York Times published the story last month about Trump's campaign associates having repeated contacts with the Russian intelligence, a U.S. law enforcement official told CNN. Priebus also reached out to FBI Director James Comey requesting him to at least talk to reporters even if the FBI did not want to dispute them publicly. A White House official reportedly did not say what the FBI told Priebus exactly but said that McCabe didn't discuss aspects of the case and that Comey also rejected the request.
"We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said late Thursday night after CNN's reports on the White House's request to the FBI.
Last weekend, Priebus called the Times story "complete garbage."
"The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this -- that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there's nothing to it," Priebus told "Fox News Sunday."