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. 
ADVERTISEMENT

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 NunesTrump denies report that he still uses personal cell phone for calls The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Conservative Dan Bongino launches alternative to the Drudge Report 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 RosensteinRosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Judge rules former WH counsel McGahn must testify under subpoena 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 GowdyFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills 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 SchiffTrump denies report that he still uses personal cell phone for calls Schiff asks Pence to declassify more material from official's testimony Schiff: Impeachment testimony shows Trump 'doesn't give a shit' about what's good for the country 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.