Top Intel Dems denounce presence of Trump lawyer at classified briefings

Top Intel Dems denounce presence of Trump lawyer at classified briefings
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The top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence committees on Thursday criticized the presence of President Trump's attorney at a pair of classified meetings between lawmakers and top Justice Department officials.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer handling the Russia investigation, had "no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing."

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Warner also criticized White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE for making an appearance at the meeting he attended. Both meetings were convened to discuss the FBI's use of a top-secret informant in the early days of a counterintelligence probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"For the record, the President’s Chief of Staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing," Warner tweeted. 

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMcConnell, White House lawyer huddle on impeachment strategy House GOP lawmaker wants Senate to hold 'authentic' impeachment trial Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who attended both briefings Thursday, similarly called Flood's presence at the onset of the meetings "completely inappropriate" and "entirely improper."

In a statement, Schiff accused Trump's legal team of seeking to use classified information from the Justice Department to gain a legal advantage in the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

"Emmet Flood’s presence and statement at the outset of both meetings today was completely inappropriate," Schiff said. 

"Although he did not participate in the meetings which followed, as the White House's attorney handling the Special Counsel's investigation, his involvement – in any capacity – was entirely improper, and I made this clear to him."

The White House said Flood and Kelly made an appearance before both meetings officially began to call for "as much openness as possible under law."

"Neither [Chief of Staff John Kelly] nor Mr. Flood actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meetings started to relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

The meetings were called after the president and his allies raised concerns that the FBI had used the informant — identified in media reports as Stefan Halper, an American academic — to improperly spy on the Trump campaign. 

The informant reportedly met with at least three Trump campaign advisers — George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFive takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill DOJ watchdog: Durham said 'preliminary' FBI Trump probe was justified Trump can't cry foul on FISA – unless he's suddenly a civil libertarian MORE, Carter Page and Sam Clovis — in 2016. No evidence has emerged to suggest that the FBI spied on Trump's campaign, as some Trump allies have claimed.

The White House initially announced that top Justice Department officials would meet with a select group of Republican lawmakers to discuss the FBI's actions in the early months of the Russia investigation.

After facing pressure from Democrats, however, the White House announced a second meeting with the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of lawmakers briefed on classified intelligence matters.