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story.lead_photo.caption FBI Director Christopher Wray, right, leaves a classified briefing about the federal investigation into President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, May 24, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic lawmakers Thursday huddled in classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on the Trump campaign.

Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately in its early investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Republicans declined to comment.

Still, the briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump's GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump's personal and political defense.

Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.

"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," Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.

The White House said the officials didn't attend the full briefings but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the "president's desire for as much openness as possible under the law" and relaying "the president's understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government."

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.

Trump has zeroed in on reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it "spygate" and tweeting Thursday that it was "Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history."

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn't say what he learned but said he looked forward to the "prompt completion" of the House Intelligence Committee's work now that they are "getting the cooperation necessary."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.

Nunes and other Republicans looking to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation used Trump's complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller's ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed 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 statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment on it afterward.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.

The Justice Department had rejected Nunes' original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.

Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.

In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump's claim that President Barack Obama's administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

It's long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Comments

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  • BOLTAR
    May 24, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.

    Nunes Memo II: Squirrel Games

  • PopMom
    May 24, 2018 at 6:24 p.m.

    Schiff came out and said that there was no evidence of a spy. Trump is just trying to divert attention away from his own illegal behavior.

  • hah406
    May 24, 2018 at 6:56 p.m.

    Pretty telling that Nunes and Gowdy and Ryan had NOTHING to say today after the briefing. Trump is cornered, and there is no where else to run when Nunes won't defend him.

  • TimberTopper
    May 24, 2018 at 7:03 p.m.

    Trump being a con man may think he can confuse the investigation by playing his shell game. With all probability, Mueller already knows under which shell the pea is under, and is watching Trump try to reset the shells. Of course the Trumpets out in the hinterlands have already bought the spy story, hook line and sinker.

  • mozarky2
    May 24, 2018 at 9:32 p.m.

    You "progs" have no idea what's coming your way...laugh if you will...President Trump will have the last laugh.
    BTW, you're the only people left in the entire universe who actually believe Trump will be charged with something.
    Holy Schiff, people, get out of that echo chamber from time to time!
    Aren't you getting tired of Lucy pulling that football back at the last second?

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