Smells of desperation: Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories
Greg Miller and Adam Entous report in the Washington Post:
The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.
Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.
The White House on Friday acknowledged those interactions with the FBI but did not disclose that it then turned to other officials who agreed to do what the FBI would not — participate in White House-arranged calls with news organizations, including The Washington Post.
Two of those officials spoke on the condition of anonymity — a practice President Trump has condemned.
The officials broadly dismissed Trump associates’ contacts with Russia as infrequent and inconsequential. But the officials would not answer substantive questions about the issue, and their comments were not published by The Post and do not appear to have been reported elsewhere.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed that the White House communicated with officials with the aim of contesting reporting on Russia, but maintained that the administration did nothing improper. “When informed by the FBI that [the Russia-related reporting] was false, we told reporters who else they should contact to corroborate the FBI’s version of the story,” he said.
The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.
The effort also involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. A spokesman for Nunes said that he had already begun speaking to reporters to challenge the story and that, “at the request of a White House communications aide, Chairman Nunes then spoke to an additional reporter and delivered the same message.”
Unlike the others, Nunes spoke on the record and was subsequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
In an interview, Burr acknowledged that he “had conversations about” Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged “repeated” or “constant” contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives. . .
Video at the link, and more to the story.