2018-05-25 23:21:33 UTC
Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, on Thursday.CreditTom
Brenner/The New York Times
By Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner
May 24, 2018
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s chief of staff and a White House lawyer
representing the president in the Russia investigation were present on
Thursday at the start of two classified meetings requested by members of
Congress to review sensitive material about the F.B.I.’s use of an
informant in the inquiry.
The two men left both meetings after sharing introductory remarks “to
relay the president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the
law” and before officials began to brief the lawmakers, the White House
said in a statement.
But the presence of John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, and Emmet T.
Flood, the president’s lawyer, infuriated Democrats, and legal experts
said their visit, at the least, could give off the appearance that the
White House abused its authority to gain insight into an investigation
that implicates the president.
The president’s legal team was unapologetic. “We are certainly entitled
to know” what information the government has on the F.B.I. informant,
Rudolph W. Giuliani, another lawyer representing Mr. Trump in the
investigation, said in an interview. The meeting “cuts off a long
subpoena,” he said, referring to a legal fight for the information.
At least two lawmakers participating in the briefings told Mr. Flood to
his face that his presence was inappropriate.
“Although he did not participate in the meetings which followed, as the
White House’s attorney handling the special counsel’s investigation, his
involvement — in any capacity — was entirely improper,” Representative
Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence
Committee, said in a statement.
House Republicans close to the president, led by Representative Devin
Nunes of California, the committee’s chairman, had been pressing for
weeks for access to material related to a law enforcement informant who
had approached at least three Trump campaign advisers who had been in
contact with suspected Russian agents. People familiar with the matter
said that the purpose of using the informant — a common F.B.I. tool —
was to glean information about what the aides knew about the Russian
efforts to hack into Democratic emails, not to spy on Mr. Trump’s campaign.
But the issue exploded when Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I., without
evidence, of planting a spy in his campaign. He demanded in recent days
that the Justice Department investigate the matter and turn over records
to Congress, despite warnings from law enforcement officials in his
administration that sharing the documents would put the informant and
foreign intelligence partners at risk.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials did not provide documents to
the lawmakers on Thursday, but they did provide information about the
use of the informant, according to two people familiar with the matter.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a classified meeting.
Republicans close to Mr. Nunes made clear in the run-up to the meetings
that they would not be satisfied unless officials turned over documents.
Neither Mr. Nunes nor lawmakers close to him spoke publicly after
Democrats who attended said after the meetings that the F.B.I. had done
nothing wrong by employing the informant, an American academic who
served in several Republican administrations and has taught more
recently in Britain.
“Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence
to support any allegation that the F.B.I. or any intelligence agency
placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump campaign, or otherwise failed to follow
appropriate procedures and protocols,” Mr. Schiff told reporters on
behalf of the Democrats in the briefing. He did not take questions.
White House officials had at first arranged for only Mr. Nunes to be
briefed. But Republican Senate leaders, including Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky, the majority leader, and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina,
the Intelligence Committee chairman, pressed the White House to change
the audience to the so-called Gang of Eight, the select bipartisan group
with whom the government’s most sensitive intelligence is shared.
Mr. McConnell said in an interview on Thursday that the Gang of Eight
meeting was an “appropriate way to convey whatever information the
administration had to convey,” but he declined to critique Mr. Trump’s
charges of illegal spying.
As Mr. Trump continued to fan unsubstantiated claims that partisan
Democrats had planted a spy in his campaign, the logistics for the
meetings shifted several times.
Ultimately, Mr. Schiff was allowed to attend a morning session that had
previously been offered to just Mr. Nunes, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of
Wisconsin and another Republican congressman. The Gang of Eight met
later Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Flood’s presence at the meetings was entirely unexpected. While Mr.
Kelly helped arrange the meetings at Mr. Trump’s request, Sarah Huckabee
Sanders, the White House press secretary, had said no White House staff
members would attend. Guidance circulated by the Justice Department late
Wednesday did not include Mr. Flood among the invitees.
“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,” Senator Mark
Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said
When Democrats confronted Mr. Flood in the Gang of Eight meeting, Mr.
Kelly intervened and dismissed their criticism, according to one of the
officials familiar with the meeting.
Democrats tried to start their own inquiry. Representative Jerrold
Nadler of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary
Committee, made a formal request for the Justice Department to
investigate the disclosure of the confidential informant’s name and
existence to the news media.
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the
Intelligence Committee chairman, has been quiet about what exactly he
hopes to learn about the informant.CreditLeah Millis/Reuters
While there is no constitutional provision that says the president’s
personal lawyer cannot make a statement at a classified briefing, legal
scholars expressed misgivings.
“Even if Flood wasn’t there for any operative parts of the meeting, the
optics are disquieting,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at the
University of Texas School of Law. “Rather than being sensitive to the
clear potential conflict this creates, the president is driving a truck
through the middle of it. Historically, a president would be very
careful to avoid the appearance of a conflict, as opposed to relishing
Mr. Ryan, who has been criticized for not reining in House Republican
attacks on the Russia inquiry and federal law enforcement, defended the
Inherent in the Intelligence Committee’s work “is the responsibility to
ask tough questions of the executive branch,” he said in a statement.
“That is why we have insisted and will continue to insist on Congress’s
constitutional right to information necessary for the conduct of oversight.”
Mr. Nunes, a loyal ally of Mr. Trump who advised his presidential
transition, has been quiet about what exactly he hoped to learn about
the informant, saying only that his late-April request was part of an
oversight investigation into potential political bias and abuse of power
within the Justice Department as it relates to the Russia investigation.
It was the latest in a series of bold demands for classified documents
and testimony related to the Russia inquiry — and far from his first
open confrontation with top Republican officials in the department. And
it echoed another episode, from last spring, in which Mr. Trump falsely
claimed that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, and Mr.
Nunes went public with information that he said showed the Obama
administration had “incidentally” collected intelligence on Trump
Democrats say that the latest episode — including the president’s
involvement — is the most recent gambit by Mr. Nunes and Mr. Trump to
undermine the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and gain
information about his inquiry.
Many of Mr. Nunes’s targets were in the room for the meeting:
Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director; Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy
attorney general; and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence,
along with other law enforcement and intelligence officials.
Mr. Trump continued to rail against law enforcement on Twitter on
Thursday, repeating his unsubstantiated claims. “Large dollars were paid
to the Spy, far beyond normal,” he said, without citing evidence, before
referring to the matter as “one of the biggest political scandals in
Five former top American intelligence officials who have worked for
Democratic and Republican administrations, including Leon E. Panetta and
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, warned on Wednesday that House Republicans were
putting at risk the tradition of bipartisan oversight of intelligence.
“When congressional oversight is overly partisan — or focused on
undermining important counterintelligence investigations — we worry
about inappropriate political influence on the investigators and the
erosion of a bipartisan approach to intelligence and national security,”
they wrote in an open letter.
Reporting was contributed by Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman from
New York, and Adam Goldman, Thomas Kaplan and Charlie Savage from
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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New
York edition with the headline: Trump Proxies Drop by Briefings on
Russia Case. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to
Spy, as Trump Claims
May 18, 2018
Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation
May 16, 2018
Trump Repeats Unconfirmed Claims of Campaign Spying
May 23, 2018
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Revealing the name of a spy is not a good idea.
In fact it's called TREASON.
It's not just that you put the person's life or livelihood in danger.
It's also that you lose a valuable source of information and the enemy
can track and remove sources of valuable information.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Oleg Penkovsky was a KGB agent who worked for the US and the British as
a double agent. It was the information that only he could provide that
helped the US know details about the Soviets putting missiles in Cuba.
He helped avoid WWIII so that JFK could force the Soviets to remove
their missiles peacefully.
Someone in US intelligence casually mentioned his name to his British
counterpart, but did not know that he was working for the KGB. The next
day the KGB arrested, tortured and killed Penkovsky.
So if there were ever any other serious crisis like the Cuban Missile
Crisis we lost our most valuable source of information.
BTW, when Penkovsky was grabbed by the KGB he blurted out the code word
to start WWIII. Luckily the CIA agent monitoring him was smart enough to
double check to see if it was real and knew it wasn't so he didn't start
When James Jesus Angleton was conducting his Molehunt he brought former
CIA officer John Paisley out of retirement to contact his sources in the
KGB to find out who the mole was. One night on the way back to dock his
boat he used his encrypted radio to contact an old friend who had been
his liaison to the NSA and told him that he had discovered who the mole
was and was typing up the report to hand in to Angleton the next morning.
The next morning he was found dead in the river. The KGB had
interecepted the call, shot him twice in the back of the head, then tied
diving weights around his body and threw him into the river.
Not only was it a loss of a good source, but it allowed the real mole to
continue to give our secrets to the enemy.