I guess last night’s CNN scoop bugged him.
How sure is he that it was someone at the FBI who leaked to CNN about Reince Priebus’s call with Comey rather than someone inside the White House itself?
I expected Team Trump to come out swinging this morning, emphatically denying that any contact with the Bureau had taken place, but they’re actually admitting to it — with caveats. Sean Spicer confirmed to CNN last night that someone at the White House spoke to the FBI, but added, “We didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth.” That was my point exactly in last night’s post: If CNN’s story is accurate, Priebus didn’t ask the FBI to lie and he didn’t ask them to alter their investigation into Trump’s campaign aides and their contacts with Russia. What he asked them to do was to tell reporters, on background, what deputy director Andrew McCabe had told him — namely, that the stories published last week alleging “constant communications” between some Trump staffers and Russian agents during the campaign were either nonsense or heavily exaggerated. If you can tell me that, Priebus seems to have asked McCabe and Comey, why can’t you tell the New York Times?
The AP has a source inside the White House who backs all of that up:
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked a top FBI official to dispute media reports that President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, a White House official said late Thursday.
The official said Priebus’ request came after the FBI told the White House it believed a New York Times report last week describing those contacts was not accurate. As of Thursday, the FBI had not stated that position publicly and there was no indication it planned to.
It’s improper regardless for Priebus to be leaning on the FBI to do political damage control for Trump, but it’d be much worse if he had called Comey or McCabe out of the blue to make that request than if the Bureau itself had already informed him that the media had its facts about the investigation wildly wrong. If it’s true that McCabe had already led Priebus to believe that the facts were on Trump’s side, then like Spicer says, Priebus is guilty of nothing more than encouraging them to tell the truth. Still not a good precedent to have political officers meddling with the Bureau, but not the mega-scandal it would be if Priebus had asked the FBI’s leadership to lie.
Here’s another account from White House officials that also lays blame on McCabe for bringing this to Priebus’s attention in the first place:
Priebus asking FBI deputy director if he can cite him as "senior intelligence officials" pic.twitter.com/MNahatWoGY
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) February 24, 2017
A HuffPo reporter snarks that it was just days ago that Priebus was condemning the use of anonymous sources in stories and here he was, per these WH sources, allegedly trying to recruit some of his own. (Trump also said this morning that the media shouldn’t be allowed to use anonymous sources even though his own team is doing background briefings, per the last tweet above. And wasn’t Trump a big, big fan of Wikileaks during the campaign? And a big fan of Birther rumors before that?) But you know the response to that: You’ve got to fight fire with fire. If leakers are willing to use anonymity to try to tear down Trump’s image without fear of reprisal, the White House has no choice but to defend itself with its own anonymous arsenal.
I think Priebus is still in some trouble for having tried to enlist the FBI’s help on the political side of the Russia story but it’s minor trouble so long as it’s true that McCabe volunteered the information to him initially that the NYT story about Russia was overblown. If it turns out the feds actually said nothing to him about the Russia investigation and Reince cold-called them to pressure them to spin for Trump, then he’s got big problems. There’s no evidence so far to suggest that the latter happened.