Bowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation

The White House is planning a separate meeting for bipartisan House and Senate leaders to receive classified information related to the Russia investigation, responding to pressure over a decision to exclude Democrats from a highly anticipated Thursday briefing.

The group, known as the Gang of Eight, will huddle with officials representing the Justice Department, law enforcement and intelligence on Thursday afternoon — two hours after the same group of officials will hold a solo meeting with Republican lawmakers. 

Thursday’s planned meeting with only House Republicans “will proceed as previously scheduled,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said — with no Democrats present. It is set for noon on Thursday, according to the Justice Department (DOJ). 

That meeting is expected to cover the use of a confidential informant in the early months of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. 
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In a new development revealed by the DOJ on Wednesday night, White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE will attend both meetings. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had previously said that he would not attend, although he was brokering the original meeting. 

White House officials threw together Thursday's briefing for GOP lawmakers after Trump demanded the Justice Department investigate unsubstantiated allegations that the FBI "planted" a "spy" on his 2016 campaign.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden White House, Congress talk next coronavirus relief bill as COVID-19 continues to surge MORE (R-Calif.), a vocal Trump backer, has subpoenaed documents he believes could substantiate those claims.

Many suspect that Trump’s GOP allies are using the document requests to muddy the waters in the Russia probe and perhaps lay the groundwork for firing the officials who are leading it, such as Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe MORE.

But Democrats in both chambers have been clamoring to receive a bipartisan briefing on the matter since the White House announced that only Nunes and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.) would be meeting with senior Justice Department and intelligence officials to discuss allegations.

The Gang of Eight includes the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as both parties' leaders of the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Trump backs plan to give airlines another billion in aid MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays MORE (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the Justice Department on Wednesday requesting a briefing for the full "gang," but they wanted it in lieu of the GOP-only briefing.

Sanders explained the initial decision to leave Democrats out was because they had not requested the information and therefore did not deserve to be “randomly invited.”

Trump’s critics had feared that if only Republicans were allowed to view the information, they could use it for political purposes.

Less than 24 hours before that proposed meeting, however, it remained unclear what information the two GOP lawmakers would be told.

But that meeting will not be the first time Nunes has been briefed by the Justice Department without his Democratic counterpart on the committee.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.), in the past has received a separate but reportedly identical briefing on Nunes-led requests.

Schiff told reporters on Tuesday night that the Justice Department and the FBI had told him that Nunes "refused" to receive the briefings in the same room as Schiff.

The dueling briefings are highly unusual in intelligence oversight and signal the depths of partisan rancor on the House Intel panel.

--Updated 10:29 p.m.