An important caveat to start: The lawyer, Emmet Flood, didn’t sit through either briefing, neither the one for Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy earlier in the day or the one for the top intel members in the House and Senate later. He showed up with John Kelly to make some “initial remarks,” then split.
But what was he doing there in the first place? He works for Trump on Russiagate, to defend him against any criminal charges that might be filed by the DOJ. Today’s briefing by the DOJ was supposed to be for Congress only, ostensibly to answer questions about the how’s and why’s of Stefan Halper supplying the FBI with information on the Trump campaign in 2016. Trump claims that it’s crucial for Congress to be briefed in case there was wrongdoing by the DOJ; the legislative branch needs to know what the Justice Department was up to so that it can provide oversight. But his critics claim that’s BS, that House Republicans want to know what the DOJ knows so that they can leak it to Trump to help him and (maybe his aides) beat the rap. They suspect that the White House is exploiting legitimate government functions for the president’s own personal interests.
So what does Trump do? He sends his personal lawyer and chief of staff to a classified briefing neither one has any reason to be at, seemingly confirming the suspicion that this has less to do with oversight than it does with the White House grasping for ways to force Rod Rosenstein to show them his cards.
John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, whom Mr. Trump asked to help organize the meetings, attended both sessions, as did Emmet T. Flood, a lawyer representing Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation. Their presence was highly unusual in a sensitive congressional oversight briefing, and it raised the specter that top aides to the president could gain access to closely held information about an investigation of the president and his associates.
Both men left the rooms after initial remarks, according to two officials familiar with the meeting.
It would have been really outrageous for Kelly and Flood to stay for the briefings, but if they weren’t going to stay, why did they go at all? Was it to remind Nunes in person, “You work for us”? You’re left wondering why Trump didn’t just summon Rosenstein and ask him flat out to spill the details on Halper. Probably he concluded that an attempt that brazen to interfere in an investigation in which he himself is a subject would either leak or cause Rosenstein to resign or both, instigating a political sh*tstorm. Better to force Rosenstein to brief Nunes so that Nunes can then pass the information to Trump. You know, “by the book.”
Per Rudy Giuliani, they’re barely even pretending that the briefing was for oversight purposes:
RUDY tells @dsamuelsohn that today’s briefing will inform Trump’s legal defense:
“We want to see how the briefing went to today and how much we learned from it. If we learned a good deal from it, it will shorten that whole process considerably.”
Exactly what Dems feared.
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) May 24, 2018
Both friends and enemies of the president can’t believe Flood was at the briefings:
GRAHAM to me: "why he (the president's lawyer – Emmet Flood) is there (in these classified briefings), I don't know. That is a bit odd. If the president's lawyer is there, I'd like to know why."
— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) May 24, 2018
Emmet Flood’s presence and statement at the outset of both meetings today was completely inappropriate, and I told him so. It only underscores what Rudy Giuliani said: the President’s legal team expects to improperly obtain and use such information for their defense.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 24, 2018
Schiff also claims that nothing he heard at the briefing about Halper suggests anything improper was done by the DOJ, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Keep your eye on reaction from Gowdy and Richard Burr, both Republicans and both straight shooters on Russiagate as far as I can tell. Gowdy in particular has no reason to lie for Trump since he’ll be an ex-member of Congress in about eight months. If he thinks something’s fishy with Halper, there probably is. If not, not. As I write this at around 7 p.m. ET, I haven’t seen any reaction from him yet on the wires. Either way, though, POTUS will continue to insist that this is “bigger than Watergate.” The man knows branding. Exit quotation: “Trump told one ally this week that he wanted ‘to brand’ the informant a ‘spy,’ believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public.”