White House pushes back on report it asked FBI to publicly shoot down Russia stories

Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus. Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House officials strongly pushed back Friday on reports that the FBI refused to publicly shoot down stories about connections between some of President Donald Trump’s associates and Russian officials.

CNN reported Thursday that the White House reached out to the FBI, which has been investigating the Trump team’s Russia connections, to ask for help in discrediting reports in The New York Times and CNN from earlier this month.

CNN reported that such communications could violate rules about contacts between the White House and the FBI regarding ongoing investigations.

In a background briefing with reporters Friday, the White House offered pushback to the latest CNN story, according to a pool report.

After a White House meeting the day after the initial New York Times story ran, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus spoke to an FBI assistant director, Andrew McCabe, about the story, the officials said.

McCabe told Priebus that he wanted him to know that the Times story was “bulls—,” according to the officials. Priebus said he was getting “crushed” on the story and asked what they could do about it. McCabe said he’d get back to him.

Later, McCabe called Priebus and said the FBI would “love to help” but couldn’t say anything publicly. McCabe said that they couldn’t make statements on every story, White House officials said Friday. Priebus asked if he could cite “senior intelligence officials” as saying there was “nothing to” the Times story. McCabe gave his permission, the administration officials said.

FBI Director James Comey called Priebus and reiterated McCabe’s sentiments, the officials said.

Priebus told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the “top levels of the intelligence community” had assured him that the Times story is “not only inaccurate” but”grossly overstated” and “wrong.”

For his part, Trump railed against what he called the FBI’s inability to stop “leakers” Friday.

“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” Trump tweeted. “They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself.”

“Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW,” he added.

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