By Seung Min Kim, Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol D. Leonnig | Washington Post
WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff John Kelly plans to convene a meeting between top law enforcement and intelligence officials and GOP congressional leaders to “review highly classified and other information” the lawmakers have requested about the FBI’s use of a confidential source to aid an investigation of the Trump campaign, a White House spokeswoman said Monday.
President Donald Trump met for about an hour Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. The meeting came a day after the Justice Department asked its inspector general to investigate Trump’s claim that his campaign may have been infiltrated by the FBI source for political purposes, and amid continued demands from GOP lawmakers that the department produce materials on the person.
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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that, at the meeting, it was “agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
The significance of that was not immediately clear. Justice Department leaders have fought vigorously against revealing to Congress materials on the source. It was not clear whether they had backed down from their position and would now allow GOP leaders to look at the documents, or whether there would simply be a follow-up meeting for more discussion.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Trump personally called for the Monday meeting, two people familiar with the request said, and Sanders said it was put on the books last week. The president was expected to question the officials on their refusal to turn over documents to Congress about the early stages of the investigation into whether his campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election, the people familiar with the request said.
He was also expected to inquire about the Justice Department’s announcement Sunday that it had asked its inspector general to investigate his claim of campaign infiltration, one person familiar with the matter said. Sanders noted that the department had “asked the inspector general to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump campaign.”
A day earlier, Trump said on Twitter that he would order the Justice Department to “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
The stakes are high. While the Justice Department has already tasked its inspector general with reviewing Trump’s concern over the source, it was unclear whether that would satisfy him. Some in federal law enforcement also feared that the president might intervene in the dispute between the Justice Department and GOP lawmakers over documents about the source in a way that could cause significant backlash.
Justice Department officials were previously unwilling to hand over materials about the source, citing the safety of the source and others, as well as damage to relations with partner intelligence services.
Trump could order the department to comply with congressional demands, but it is possible that department officials might resign in protest or refuse the order and force Trump to fire them.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said in an interview Sunday that Trump wanted the materials handed over to Congress, though he conceded that the Justice Department “may want to put some strictures on it, like it has to be confidential or they don’t give the name but they give the information.”
“I have a hard time believing they won’t go along,” Giuliani said. “They have to eventually reveal something about this. This is a serious issue.”
Many details about the source remain murky, and it is not precisely clear what GOP lawmakers are requesting or why their requests are of such concern to the Justice Department. The source, a longtime U.S. intelligence asset, is a retired American professor who made contact with three of Trump’s advisers during the campaign.
In the summer of 2016, he met with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis for coffee in northern Virginia, offering to provide foreign policy expertise to the Trump team. In September of that year, he reached out to George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign policy adviser for the campaign, inviting him to London to work on a research paper. He also had multiple contacts with foreign policy adviser Carter Page for talks about foreign policy.
The Washington Post is not naming the professor because it generally does not do so in cases of confidential intelligence assets.
In response to Trump’s tweet, the Justice Department announced the inspector general investigation. Rosenstein said Sunday that “if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”
The inspector general’s investigation is significant in its own right: The president effectively requested, and apparently received, an investigation of the investigation into his campaign.
“In my opinion, it is a terrible outcome for the department,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, who served in the Obama administration. “The president has basically requested an investigation of the investigators with no evidence of wrongdoing, and they’ve agreed to do it.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor: “The president’s behavior is the kind of grossly autocratic behavior we’d expect in a banana republic, not a mature democracy. By now, we should all recognize that President Trump’s latest demand is just another example of a relentless campaign to distract from the serious wrongdoing being uncovered by the Russia probe.”
Still, the request for an investigation did not immediately mollify GOP lawmakers.
On Monday, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a Trump ally who has been a vocal critic of Rosenstein and the Justice Department, said on Twitter before the meeting: “Rod Rosenstein knows exactly what happened and what is in the documents requested by Congress. Either the matter warranted investigation long ago and he did nothing, or he’s seen the facts and believes nothing is wrong. His belated referral to the IG is not news . . . it is a ruse.”