Democrats will be shut out of a White House-brokered meeting during which Justice Department officials will tell two House GOP chairmen about an intelligence source who provided information about President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump asked White House chief of staff John Kelly to set up the meeting, which comes after Justice officials have for months been reluctant to hand over any information on the matter to Republican members. The order to broker the meeting, slated for Thursday, came after Trump met Monday with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a session the president on Tuesday described as “routine.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday ticked off the expected attendees when asked about the session during her semi-daily press briefing. She did not read off the name of a single Democratic lawmaker.
“The individuals that are expected to attend are Chairman Nunes, Chairman Gowdy, FBI Director Wray, [Director of National Intelligence Dan] Coats, and DOJ official Ed O’Callaghan,” she said, referring to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes., R-Calif., and House Government and Oversight Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
“No one from the White House staff will attend,” Sanders said. Neither will any Democrats, meaning the information will likely become instantly politicized.
A few moments later, Sanders was asked why Democrats are being kept away from the meeting and the data about the intelligence source.
“To my knowledge, the Democrats have not requested that information,” she said. “So I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they’ve never asked to.”
In recent days, the president and his congressional GOP allies have described the intelligence source as a “spy” who was sent to infiltrate his campaign on orders given by Obama White House officials.
“As you know, the Congress would like to see documents opened up. A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign that would be a disgrace to this country,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “That would be one of the biggest insults anyone has ever seen. That would be very illegal. We want to make sure there weren’t.”
“That would be unprecedented in the history of our country,” he added without support for the claim.
Democratic members have rejected the notion of a “spy” being deployed for political purposes, saying it is routine for law enforcement and intelligence officials to use informants when determining possible criminal actions. They also are concerned the meeting will culminate in the outing of the identity of the source or information about that person.
“President Trump’s own FBI director (Wray) this week said when elected officials start exposing classified information, exposing informants that work with our government, America is less safe,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., told CNN on Sunday. “That is illegal if you reveal this kind of information.”
House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., warned Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that revealing the source’s identity or other information “could compromise the investigation.”
“And the president’s response and Chairman Nunes, [influential Ohio conservative Rep. Jim] Jordan, and Gowdy and others is,” Schiff said, “‘Bring it on. We don’t care. Whatever is in the service of the president we’re willing to do.’”
He dubbed the move to obtain the information “a dramatic and new and destructive low, I think, for the Congress of the United States basically to ignore the warnings of the FBI and Justice Department and potentially risk people’s lives.”
Trump also would not state Tuesday he has confidence in the embattled Rosenstein.
“What’s your next question please?” he said to reporters when asked if he would do so during an extended pool spray in the Oval Office alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“Excuse me, I have the president of South Korea here,” Trump said, sidestepping the question. “He doesn’t want to hear these questions, if you don’t mind.”
There have been whispers and reports for months that the president might fire Rosenstein over his handling of the special counsel-led Russia probe. Doing so would immediately conjure memories of former President Richard M. Nixon’s “Saturday Massacre” in which the president asked Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, leading to a cascade of resignations culminating with Cox’s eventual ouster.
While some conservative Republican lawmakers have been critical of the deputy AG and the Russia investigation, many GOP members have advised the president to leave Rosenstein in his post and allow the Russia probe to run its natural course.