White House lawyer visits congressional briefing on Russia investigation

Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer handling the Russia investigation, was seen Thursday afternoon at a pair of classified meetings between members of Congress and senior Justice Department officials about the FBI's tactics in the probe.

Flood did not stay for the entirety of either meeting, leaving shortly after they were convened. It was not immediately clear why he was present.

“Neither [Chief of Staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE] 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," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

His attendance—along with the similarly brief attendance of Kelly—was a reversal from Sanders' previous claims that no White House staff would be present at the meetings.

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The Justice Department declined to comment.

The two briefings — one with the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and one with the so-called Gang of Eight — were called to address the use of a confidential informant in the early months of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

Trump and some House Republicans have demanded the Justice Department investigate unsubstantiated allegations that the FBI "planted a spy" in his 2016 campaign.

White House officials initially invited only GOP lawmakers to a single briefing on Thursday, sparking allegations from Democrats that the meeting was designed to share information with the president's legal team that could be used in his defense.

Later, under pressure from Democrats, they added a second briefing with the top leaders from both parties of the House and Senate and the bipartisan leaders of the two Intelligence Committees — the Gang of Eight.

Then, hours before the first meeting with GOP lawmakers on Thursday, it was revealed that House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Trump appeals order siding with House Democrats bank subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) would be attending both meetings.

Flood's presence immediately raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

Although he is not a member of the president's personal legal team — he is a White House employee, unlike Rudy Giuliani — officials say his job is defending the president in the Russia probe.

“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt," Sanders said when he was hired in May.

-Updated 4:11 p.m.