The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) rejected a request by the White House to publicly dispute media reports that President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers kept regular contacts with Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 presidential election, according to a report.
White House officials had called for the FBI and other agencies investigating the alleged communications with Russia to say that there had been no contacts and that the reports were wrong, several US officials briefed on the matter told CNN.
The revelation comes days after White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said senior US intelligence officials had assured him that Trump associates had no contacts with Russian agents.
Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the story about the alleged communications, which was first published in The New York Times, “was total baloney.”
US law enforcement and intelligence agencies had intercepted the phone calls around the same time they were investigating whether Russia was interfering in the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, according to The Times.
The discussions between the White House and the FBI began when Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s deputing director, met with Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, an official told CNN.
The White House chief of staff reportedly reached out again to McCabe later and to his boss, James Comey, asking for the FBI to dispute the media reports.
Priebus' discussion with McCabe angered some members of Congress, who characterized it as a violation of polices that restrict communications with the FBI on pending investigations.
"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," said Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The stories emerged as the White House was already reeling from the resignation of Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security adviser over improper contacts with Russian officials.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer raised more questions when he inadvertently confirmed that Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his dealings with Moscow.