Senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are set to give separate briefings to two sets of lawmakers Thursday in connection with the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
In the first session, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray will meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy.
The White House arranged those talks with the three Republican lawmakers who want more information about an FBI informant who had contact with Trump campaign officials during the 2016 race.
Democrats complained the meeting was inappropriate and asked for an expanded session that would include the so-called Gang of Eight bipartisan group of senior members of both parties.
That request was granted, but not in place of the first talks, and will instead take place a few hours after the Republican-only session.
The expanded talks will include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, and the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff, according to the Justice Department.
Trump has seized on the FBI’s use of Stefan Halper to talk to three of his campaign associates as part of the Russia probe, claiming Halper was working to “spy for political reasons” in order to help Democrat Hillary Clinton win the election.
“Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE – a terrible thing!” Trump said Thursday on Twitter.
Halper is an American foreign policy scholar at Britain’s University of Cambridge, and worked as a secret informant to report on foreign affairs conversations he had with the three Trump advisers — Carter Page, Sam Clovis and George Papadopoulos. Decades ago, Halper served in three Republican U.S. administrations in various domestic policy roles.
The FBI, at the time it used Halper as an informant, was probing Trump campaign links to Russian interests during the latter stages of the 2016 campaign, part of what eventually became special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing criminal investigation. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians.
Trump’s collusion denial
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Last year, the U.S. intelligence community assessed Russia carried out an influence campaign meant to disrupt the election and help Trump’s chances of winning.
After Trump earlier this week demanded the FBI and the Justice Department disclose confidential records about the use of Halper, Rosenstein and Wray agreed to Thursday’s meeting with Nunes and Gowdy to show them the information.
Trump told White House reporters he was not “undercutting” the Justice Department by making his demand for the information about Halper.
“We’re cleaning everything up. This was a terrible situation,” he said. “I want total transparency … because this issue supersedes Republicans and Democrats.”
Clapper: no spying on Trump’s political operations
In his Thursday tweet, Trump claimed that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who served under former President Barack Obama, “has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal.”
But Clapper said in television interviews this week there was no spying on Trump’s political operations. Rather, he told CNN, “What it was about was trying to determine what the Russians were doing. We should all be concerned about that.”
It has not been disclosed how much the FBI paid Halper. But U.S. financial records show that since 2012 Halper has had contracts with the Defense Department for more than $1 million for research and development in the social sciences and humanities, although the money did not go solely to him. He hired other academics to help with the research and prepare reports.
Trump said in Wednesday tweet, “Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win,” Trump’s oft-repeated pejorative for his 2016 Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Rosenstein has also asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the FBI’s use of Halper.
“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said.