The Department of Justice’s classified briefing on Capitol Hill has not convinced attendees to withdraw support for Robert Mueller’s Russia probe despite White House claims that the FBI improperly spied on the Trump campaign in 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he still backs Mueller’s special counsel investigation after the briefing on FBI use of an informant who had contacted three Trump staffers, but he also believes the inspector general investigation into FBI handling of the matter is also needed.
“The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise — the [inspector general] investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation,” McConnell told NPR. “I support both of them, and I don't really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified.”
McConnell added on Fox News that there was “nothing particularly surprising” in the briefing in spite of President Trump’s claims that the revelations of an FBI source inside his campaign represented a major Obama scandal.
The briefing was delivered to a “Gang of Eight” Democrats and Republicans made up of congressional leaders and leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Originally planned for Republican leadership only, the White House expanded the briefing to include Democrats after pushback from both parties. Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Chief of Staff John Kelly were also present at the briefing.
The debate centers over whether the Obama Administration improperly used the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign in 2016. President Trump has adopted the phrase “Spygate” and claimed that the investigation is a political scandal for the preceding administration.
Trump critics argue that the surveillance of Trump staffers was limited to those with links to Russia such as Paul Manafort, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos and did not benefit the Clinton campaign. In contrast to Trump claims that the entire investigation was based on the Steele dossier, the probe apparently began when Australian Ambassador Joe Hockey tipped the FBI that Papadopoulos had claimed in May 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton from hacked DNC emails. The Washington Post broke the story last week that an informant inside the Trump campaign had corroborated Hockey’s claim.
There are holes in the president’s argument. Trump has not explained why, if the FBI’s intention was to help Hillary win, the Steele dossier was not leaked until after the election. The president has also failed to account for FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 memo to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. The Comey memo is widely believed to have tipped the election to Donald Trump.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the only other attendee to comment on the briefing, was less circumspect than McConnell. Schiff told CNN in a brief statement on behalf of the Democratic leadership, “Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support the allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”
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