WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said there was “nothing particularly surprising” revealed in a classified briefing Thursday about oversight of the FBI’s campaign-season investigation into Russia’s influence operation and possible Trump campaign contacts.
Some House GOPs sought information on a confidential FBI source who, during the investigation into possible campaign ties to a foreign power, spoke with Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in October and has been cooperating with special counsel investigators. The source has been identified as a professor living in London who had been providing the FBI with information on a variety of cases for many years and did not work on the campaign.
President Trump interpreted the existence of the source as the FBI planting a spy in his campaign, according to his many recent tweets on the subject. At a Monday White House briefing, the FBI, DOJ and Director of National Intelligence agreed to hold a briefing Thursday with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
Democrats quickly said they wanted pertinent representatives at the meeting, as well. At first the administration resisted, then the Gang of Eight leaders from the House and Senate along with intelligence committee leaders were offered a briefing after the Memorial Day recess. The DOJ then bumped it up to a briefing on the same day as the Nunes and Gowdy meeting.
Invited to the full Gang of Eight meeting were McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), Nunes, and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Ryan was busy, so he scheduled a separate solo briefing; Pelosi said at a press conference that his absence added “insult to injury.”
A last-minute change also put Schiff in the first meeting with just Nunes and Gowdy.
“It was classified so there’s no real report I can give to you,” McConnell told Fox, beyond revealing he wasn’t surprised at the information shared. “I think occasionally briefing the so-called Gang of Eight is a good idea for the administration. They agreed to do it and we were glad they did.”
McConnell told NPR that he supports both special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the Justice Department’s inspector general investigation, calling them “the two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers.”
Lawmakers were surprised that Trump lawyer Emmet Flood showed up to the briefing along with White House chief of staff John Kelly, but left soon after attendees began to meet. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said neither “actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meetings started to relay the president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law.”
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told ABC that “the president personally wanted Emmet there today.” Warner tweeted after the meeting, “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.”
Schumer, Pelosi, Schiff and Warner issued a joint statement about the briefing that “was conducted to ensure protection of sources and methods.”
“Nothing we heard today has changed our view 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,” they said.
Ryan issued a statement declaring he wouldn’t comment on the briefing. “I look forward to the prompt completion of the intelligence committee’s oversight work in this area now that they are getting the cooperation necessary for them to complete their work while protecting sources and methods,” he said.
Nunes did not comment after the meeting. CNN reported that he and Gowdy didn’t get to see all of the documents they were wanting to view.