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White House To Set Up Russia Investigation Meeting Between DOJ and Congress

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 6:27 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

House Republicans have been sparring with the Justice Department and FBI for months over access to highly secret documents related to the Russia investigation. The White House is setting up a meeting between lawmakers and the department and the bureau to address the congressional request. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this. Welcome to the studio, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So the White House announced yesterday that chief of staff John Kelly would convene this meeting, and it would be between lawmakers and the DOJ and FBI. Do we have any other details?

LUCAS: We do. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says the meeting will be on Thursday. She says no White House officials will take part. She did also provide a list of who will attend. That's FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Ed O'Callaghan, who is a senior Justice Department official. Now, on the congressional side, so far there are no Democrats on the guest list, just two powerful Republican chairmen from the House. That's Trey Gowdy, who leads the House Oversight Committee, and Devin Nunes, the head of the House Intelligence Committee.

CORNISH: How significant is this move?

LUCAS: This is a big deal. Nunes has been wrestling with the Justice Department for months for access to really highly sensitive documents related to the Russia probe. He subpoenaed the Justice Department for documents. He's threatened to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel's investigation. This latest fight is over materials regarding a confidential source of the FBI who met with members of the Trump campaign in the early days of the Russia investigation. Now, the Justice Department and FBI do not want to expose the name of a confidential source or informant. These are the sorts of things - they're really among the most kind of closely guarded secrets that intelligence agencies have. And there are also concerns about what sort of precedent this might set.

CORNISH: Over the weekend, as we've been reporting, President Trump demanded answers to reports about this FBI informant. Has he said anything new about the meeting or this confidential source?

LUCAS: This is something that's clearly been on his mind. He's tweeted several times about the informant and about the Mueller investigation in the past couple days. At the White House today, reporters asked him about this. And here's a bit of what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If they had spies in my campaign during my campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.

LUCAS: Now, this comment and some of his tweets of the president - he's kind of mischaracterized what's been publicly reported. There's no evidence that the FBI had a spy inside the Trump campaign. Rather it's that an American professor with ties to the FBI set up meetings with three Trump campaign officials or advisers who were of interest to investigators because of contacts that they had with Russians. This is very different from having someone embedded, a spy embedded in the campaign. And in fact, I was speaking to current and former officials who told me that having someone like a professor as a proxy with ties to the FBI approach the campaign would really be the least intrusive way of trying to figure out what the Russians were up to.

CORNISH: The president also said today that he thinks the Justice Department wants to open up its investigative books to Congress. Is that true?

LUCAS: FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week in Congress that when the bureau can't protect its sources, its informants, that that makes the country less safe. This is definitely not something that the FBI and DOJ want to do. Current and former officials also tell me that congressional oversight committees don't want to know the name of these sources. They don't need to know them to understand if the intelligence is reliable or to do their oversight job. That's why Democrats and some officials say that Nunes' push for this information is more about trying to sow doubt about Mueller's team and the legitimacy of the Russia investigation than it is about oversight, which is what Nunes says.

CORNISH: That's NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.