May 24, 2018, 6:49 PM ET

Congressional leaders meet with DOJ, intel officials on informant controversy

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Top congressional leaders met with senior intelligence and law enforcement officials Thursday in a series of White House-brokered meetings to review highly-classified information about the Russia investigation, including possible details about a reported FBI informant in touch with several Trump campaign advisers during the 2016 presidential campaign.

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In a surprise development that overshadowed President Trump saying the briefing could provide proof of his claim of FBI "spying," the new White House lawyer handling the Russia investigation, Emmet Flood, attended and participated in at least part of the briefings as did White House chief of staff John Kelly, sources confirmed to ABC News..

The move alarmed Democrats after they had raised concerns that White House involvement could further politicize what is supposed to be an independent probe.

PHOTO: White House lawyer Emmet Flood, left and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly arrive to attend a briefing with members of the so-called Gang of Eight at the U.S. Capitol May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
White House lawyer Emmet Flood, left and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly arrive to attend a briefing with members of the so-called 'Gang of Eight' at the U.S. Capitol May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC.

"For the record, the President’s Chief of Staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted afterward.

Responding to questions about why Flood and Kelly were there, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying "Neither Chief Kelly nor Mr. Flood actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meetings started to relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law."

"They also conveyed the President’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government. After making their brief comments they departed before the meetings officially started," her statement continued.

President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tells ABC News it was his client who wanted Flood at the DOJ briefing.

"The President personally wanted Emmet there today," Giuliani told ABC News.

Giuliani says he and the full Trump legal team have not yet had a readout of what information was learned but they look forward to a briefing. shortly.

A congressional source said after Flood and Kelly delivered remarks at the top of the meeting, "it was expressed to them how inappropriate their presence was."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged that Flood didn't take part in the briefings, but said his presence was "completely inappropriate," and that he "made this clear" to Flood.

The series of meetings began at noon, when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, met at the Justice Department with FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Ed O'Callaghan, a Justice Department official and deputy to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Nunes and Gowdy left about an hour later without speaking to reporters.

Schiff joined Gowdy and Nunes in the initial briefing at noon, at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request after Democrats were initially excluded by the White House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., attended the noon briefing as well because he was scheduled to travel to Texas for a fundraiser for House Republicans, according to an aide. Other congressional leaders in the Gang of 8 were briefed Thursday afternoon. The Gang of 8 refers to the top Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. plus the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who are regularly briefed on the most sensitive intelligence matters.

Ryan later put out a statement referring to the House Intelligence Committee Nunes chairs, saying "Inherent in the committee’s work is the responsibility to ask tough questions of the executive branch. That is why we have insisted and will continue to insist on Congress’s constitutional right to information necessary for the conduct of oversight."

Kelly had helped arrange what was originally planned as just a DOJ briefing for Nunes and Godwy as Republicans continue to spar with the Justice Department on requests for documents and information related to a myriad of GOP investigations into the department.

The meeting comes as President Trump continues to stoke unsubstantiated claims that the FBI planted a spy inside his presidential campaign. He has said the briefings could provide proof of his unsubstantiated claim the FBI was likely spying on his campaign.

“A lot of bad things have happened. We now call it ‘Spygate,’” Trump said as he departed the White House Wednesday. Countering Trump, Schiff has said the controversy should be called "Lie-gate."

After the second briefing concluded, Schiff read a statement on behalf of himself, Pelosi, Warner and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer - Democratic members of the so-called "Gang of 8" – congressional leaders who get high-level intelligence briefings.

"Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols,” Schiff said.

Later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News that there was "nothing really surprising" in the classified briefing.

Following protests from top Democrats and Republicans, the White House arranged the second briefing.

The meetings are the result of a subpoena Nunes issued earlier this month demanding classified documents related to the source, a request the Justice Department denied over national security concerns.

The Washington Post and New York Times first reported that the FBI sent an informant to talk to several campaign aides during the 2016 election as evidence that a second special counsel is needed.

After Nunes threatened to move to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress over the refusal, the Justice Department invited Nunes and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to DOJ for a briefing on the documents.

On Sunday, Trump entered the fray, calling for the DOJ to investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled” his presidential campaign and whether it was ordered by Obama administration officials – allegations he has not backed up with evidence.

The Justice Department subsequently directed the DOJ inspector general, the agency's watchdog, to expand its ongoing investigation of surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the presidential election to include the president's concerns.

Nunes has said the request relates to classified information relevant to his ongoing investigation into allegations of political bias at the Justice Department related to the Russia investigation. It remained unclear Thursday if Nunes received the information he sought. He declined to comment Thursday following his first briefing.

Some Republicans have suggested moving forward with a proposal to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if DOJ did not provide the information Nunes and Gowdy were seeking.

Democrats continue to express concern about the initial disclosure of the reported informant. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department and FBI to investigate the source of the disclosure that first appeared in media reports.

"Somebody has outed an intelligence asset for what seem to be purely political purposes," he wrote, after raising "concerns" earlier in the day that it was a member of Congress who leaked information about the informant to the media.

ABC News' Cecelia Vega, Trish Turner, Devin Dwyer, John Santucci and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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  • Former Earthling

    Republicans like Nunes who give classified information about this criminal probe to Trump, who is clearly a target now, should be indicted for obstruction of Justice.

  • IT-Worker-Since-1990

    Trump just called Nunes' a patriot in one of his latest Tweets. That tells me that Nunes spilled the beans to Trump about whom it was that was that acted as a FBI informant and they can start damage control now....

  • Betty Bloop

    seems like trump moved the goal posts on this today.....how long before this ridiculousness penetrates the consciousness of the typical republican?

  • John Galt

    Nunes was warned that his threats and insistence on receiving information on an open investigation is entering into the obstruction of justice. Kelly and Floor were there to ensure Trump's ranting request was not going to be interpretted as an obstruction of justice. They are all getting red flags at this point, and Nunes may be ejected from the game again.

  • kritikosman

    Right up there with the price of ginseng tea in China.

  • hucky01

    Congressional oversight is appropriate, but NOT during an ongoing criminal investigation that has already generated several guilty pleas and upcoming trials. Especially not with anyone that will make a run to the White House and inform the "subject" if not "target" of the investigation what they have and what directions they are still going.

  • flatrock

    "Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged that Flood didn't take part in the briefings, but said his presence was "completely inappropriate," and that he "made this clear" to Flood."

    Why does Schiff believe he has any right to determine who the justice department chooses to brief? If the Justice Department was fine with him being there, then Schiff has no say in the matter. This is regarding actions taken by the justice department early in the investigation. It seems absurdly unlikely that Trump's lawyer hearing how an informant was used could interfere in any legitimate aspect of the current investigation. Instead it comes across as Schiff trying to make sure Trump's lawyer remains unaware of any possible misconduct.

    Perhaps Schiff should be left out of the briefings until he learns some basic manners and apologizes. He can send an aide in his place until then.

  • JohnC

    So when is Trump coming out and saying "sorry, my mistake. Not a spy"?

  • NuuJuce

    Trump, the KING at disseminating fake news, says he has "proof"..LOL.

  • CivilDialog

    The number of comments here that are completely twisting the facts or completely incorrect are amazing...Congress has the RIGHT, as a co-equal branch of government, to oversight of the DOJ & FBI...The documents that have been repeatedly requested by Congress, have been withheld by the DOJ & FBI...President Trump has ultimate authority over the DOJ & FBI....So, he requested that the documents be shown to Congressional Members, to eliminate the DOJ from outright ignoring their constitutional obligation to provide the information to Congress...

  • RZC

    It appears the Grand Old Party has/is turning into a gang of liars, cheats and current or future criminals .

    Trump’s Republicans just committed the most massive, coordinated abuse of power we’ve ever seen.

    FIRST: Trump ordered the Justice Department to brief Congress on Mueller’s investigation.

    THEN: Trump tried to exclude ALL Democrats from the classified briefing.

    NOW: We just learned they SNUCK Trump’s defense lawyer into the briefing to help him fight Robert Mueller.

    Bob, this isn’t just unprecedented -- it’s a MASSIVE abuse of power.

  • Store Owner

    It's strange that the liberals would not want to know if their were any wrong doing when it came to Obama's leadership. The truth will come out, and it will show that Obama was helping and colluding with Clinton's team to win the election. They were confident that their chosen one would win, and the American public would never know about their meddling in the election, therefore what else could they do but blame the Russians.

  • Chuckie M

    So now that Trumpskie is all about Transparency, Let's see those Tax Returns, like all other Presidents in our Lifetimes and like he said he would. You know he tells the truth and nothing but the truth. lol

  • David

    This morning when Trump asked what information he found out in yesterdays briefing, Nunes simply stated "boss, I'm sorry to tell you this but you're scr##ed"

  • briteleaf

    Nunes is a Trump minion using the power of a senator to investigate and undermine the Judicial Department.

  • wm97

    Look for Emmet Flood to be leaving the Trump team. Top lawyers with good reputations don't like being made part of ethically questionable actions.

  • Ross Doob

    I read some of these comments and it amazes me how ignorant some Trump supporters are. They think this is about keeping the DOJ and FBI in check. No, it is trying to protect the identities of confidential informants who are critical to maintaining the safety and security of the country. They think it is just a coincidence we have not had a major terrorist attack in this country since 9/11? Google the name Tamer Elnoury and read his book if you want to understand just how critical these informants are.

  • concernedvoter

    Great another Trump Mega fail, I guess we can toss this onto the Trump Tash Heap of made up nonsense like Obama is not American, Obama bugged my office, The Nunez Senate Report, the Memo, Nuclear one, Benghazi, Hillary Pizza Gate, Mexico will pay for Wall, etc etc etc.. now we can all get back to the real Story Russia Gate.. LOL

  • JohnC

    Hmmm, no comments from Nunes on the 'spying'? Trump is still trying to keep the spy idea going. Did Nunes have a chance to sneak into the White House last night or is that planned for today?

  • jake

    It's not a witch hunt. It's a wolf hunt.The little boy that cried wolf. Now Nunes and Gowdey need to find a wolf where there is none. The wolf hunt is on .....

  • Arc_Fault_One

    When trump decides to have the next democratic candidate "informed" on don't complain.

  • NuffAlready

    So next, when Trump requests to have a pre-consultation with anyone who is testifying in the Mueller investigation, this too shall be granted?

    Donald Trump had the audacity to requests these things, and when they were granted, even he was surprised.

  • Ctrygrl

    The president personal lawyer, who on earth thought that would even be the tiniest bit appropriate. Especially when none of these so called "briefings" should have even taken place. How dare congress horn in on an ongoing investigation and demand information, could you have possibly imagined democrats doing this to Kenneth Starr. Nunes is an out of control hypocrite and maniac, he needs to be censured. It was obvious from the way he acted what he saw was evidence of one of the most scrupulous and carefully run investigations in history. What McConnell said and the fact none of them challenged Schiff's assessment is telling. "Spygate" is what it always was, when Buffalo taped their opponents in football.

  • ogrot

    Trey and Devin Nunes left saying very little other than that they still want the documents they asked for a while back. McConnell said nothing surprising or new was shown to them, and he let Schiff's criticism that what they had seen had essentially proven the president's conspiracy to be false stand without a challenge to it. The silence from the Republican side on this says everything you need to know. This dog has no legs.

  • TrumpsKlan

    We will hear nothing from the republicans and the entire spygate nonsense will go the way of Pizza Gate and the 30 other Trump conspiracy theories

  • TexasVulcan

    I assume Kelly has security clearance, but Flood?

  • Ted Mittelstaedt

    The Democrats primary interest here is in keeping the investigation active until after the midterms.
    The Republicans primary interest is in limiting the damage that Trump is doing to the party by building a firewall between all the "bad hombres" working for Trump and the rest of the party.

    The one thing that the rest of us can take to the bank is that we won't know just how bad things are until after Trump is out of office and his Democratic successor comes into power.

    Trump has been in control for 2 years and has yet to find any dirt on Obama despite all his digging.

    I just still cannot understand how both parties so completely screwed up this election. The Democrats lost an election that everyone agreed was a shoe-in for them. The Republicans lost a chance to put an adult into power who would help their cause.

  • Derelict Donald

    the irony in all this is that the 'spy' is an american who served as a white house official for nixon, ford and reagan. a lifelong, hard core republican. how are you gonna spin that donnie? he was looking out for america, not trump or even his own party, but concerned at all the red flags the trump crime family was raising.

  • Andrew

    Nastiness abounds. Crooked donald has ramped it up as a matter of the way he works. These people hate each other. Crooked donald hates evryone including himself. I hate crooked donald and his liar boys. We all hate each other. "We'll see" what happens as a result of all this hatred crooked donald has trumped up.

  • Abuck Stops Here

    The Alex Jones story of child slaves on Mars had more legs than Spygate.
    ROFL!

  • katerant

    "There's an assault on our institutions from both internal and external sources. The external source is Russia. The internal source is our president,"

    ...former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper