WASHINGTON — Intelligence and Justice Department officials gave classified briefings to top Republican and Democratic lawmakers Thursday about a confidential FBI informant who sought to glean intelligence about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The officials held two briefings to allow lawmakers to review classified information after President Donald Trump asserted, without providing evidence, that the FBI “implanted” a spy for “political purposes” into his presidential campaign to help Hillary Clinton.
After the two sessions, the four Democrats briefed said they had heard no evidence to support the allegation that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign.
But Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a stalwart Trump supporter and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, declined to speak to reporters about whether the material reviewed at the briefing supported the president’s statements. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who attended the first Republican-only briefing, also declined to discuss what he learned.
But he said, “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 . . . while protecting sources and methods.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) read a statement for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and himself after the conclusion of the second briefing, which was for a bipartisan group of senators.
“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,” Schiff said.
Initially, the justice and intelligence officials agreed to White House requests for a briefing only for two Republican House members. But, after complaints by both parties, they added a second session for top Democrats and Republicans.
In an unscheduled and uncommon appearance, Emmet T. Flood, the White House lawyer focusing on the Russia collusion probe, accompanied White House chief of staff John Kelly to both briefings, though they left before the substantive part of the briefings.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that neither Kelly nor Flood actually attended the meetings, but instead made brief remarks about Trump’s “desire for as much openness as possible under the law.”
Democrats condemned the Republicans-only meeting and the appearance of Flood at both briefings. “As the White House’s attorney handling the special counsel’s investigation, his [Flood’s] involvement — in any capacity — was entirely improper,” the Democrats said in their statement.
Attending the first briefing at the Justice Department were Nunes, Ryan, Schiff and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). At the second briefing on Capitol Hill were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Schumer, Pelosi, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Trump’s claims about a “spy” in his campaign came after reports that the FBI sent an American academic who teaches in Britain as an informant to talk to Trump campaign advisers, following up on evidence the agency received that aides had suspicious contacts with Russia.
The events took place under then FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired a year ago, and before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former federal prosecutor and FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.