Reince Priebus Asked the FBI to Assure Reporters There Was Nothing to the Russia Story. They Refused.

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Last week the New York Times reported that members of Donald Trump’s campaign staff “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. The White House vigorously denies this, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went on TV to knock down the story. That’s fine. But it turns out Priebus did more than that. According to CNN, Priebus asked the FBI to tell reporters that there was nothing to the story:

The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe1 and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

….[A] White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.2 A law enforcement official says McCabe didn’t discuss aspects of the case but wouldn’t say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

I wonder if anyone in the Trump White House even understands how inappropriate this is? They might not. Partly it’s because they’re so inexperienced, and partly it’s because they’ve all been marinating in the Trump worldview that you’re a chump if you let delicate moral sensibilities get in the way of hitting back against your enemies. They might well believe that asking the FBI to talk to reporters is no different than asking the press secretary to talk to reporters.

If this is true, it’s no excuse. I’m just curious. If Priebus knew this was wrong, it’s hard to believe that he would have pressed the bureau multiple times, even knowing that it was almost certain to leak eventually.

In other words, at best they’re muttonheads. At worst they’re casually corrupt. Take your pick.

1In case that name sounds familiar, it’s the same Andrew McCabe who was supposedly at the center of one of the dumbest “Hillary scandal” stories ever written outside of the fever swamps.3 Long story short, McCabe’s wife is a Democrat. ZOMG!

2This is especially rich since Reibus whined just a few days ago about reporters using anonymous sources. “Put names on a piece of paper and print it,” he said on Face the Nation. “If people aren’t willing to put their name next to a quote, then the quote shouldn’t be listed.”

3Speaking of which, can you even imagine the epic meltdown we’d be enduring from Republicans right now if Hillary Clinton had done anything like this?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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