By MARY CLARE JALONICK
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department says it will offer a third classified briefing for lawmakers next week as House Republicans push for documents related to the use of an FBI informant who spoke to members of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
The department’s late Wednesday offer comes as three Republicans who attended classified briefings on the subject last month have contradicted President Donald Trump’s claims that there was a “spy” in his campaign. Trump insisted in a series of angry tweets last month that the agency planted a spy “to help Crooked Hillary win,” referring to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
At issue is the FBI’s use of a longtime government informant in its investigation into whether Russia was trying to sway the election. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., demanded documents on the informant and its contact with Trump campaign officials, while Trump dubbed the matter “spygate” and said it was “starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”
Under Trump’s orders, the Justice Department held two briefings May 24.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that he agreed with House Oversight and Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., that there is no evidence of a planted spy. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said he has seen no evidence of that.
Still, Ryan said said Congress has “more digging to do.” Nunes has said the committee is still waiting for documents after the briefings, and Ryan backed him on that Wednesday.
“We have some more documents to review. We still have some unanswered questions,” Ryan said.
Late Wednesday evening, a senior department official said the Justice Department and the FBI would offer an additional briefing to the so-called “Gang of 8” htat includes bipartisan congressional leaders and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees. The official said they would provide new documents and also “the documents that were available for review but not inspected by the members at the previous briefing.”
The official said they are prepared to “brief members on certain questions specifically raised by Ryan and other members.” The official declined to be named because the briefings are classified.
The department originally denied Congress access to any of the documents, citing national security concerns. But they eventually relented after pressure from Trump, Nunes and Ryan.
The Justice Department and FBI believe they “can provide information that is directly responsive to congressional inquiries in a manner that is consistent with its national security and law enforcement responsibilities, and is pleased to do so,” the official said in a statement.
Though senators are invited to the briefing, there has been less interest in that chamber in prolonging the public fight over information concerning the informant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the briefing that he learned “nothing particularly surprising.” On Wednesday, Burr appeared ready to move on, saying the briefing he attended “sufficiently covered everything to do with this right now.”
After the original briefings, Gowdy was the first to disagree with Trump on the matter, saying days later that the FBI was doing its duty.
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got,” Gowdy said on Fox News last week. “And that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
Gowdy added, in a separate interview on “CBS This Morning,” that such informants are used all the time and “the FBI, if they were at the table this morning, they would tell you that Russia was the target and Russia’s intentions toward our country were the target.”
Ryan told reporters on Wednesday that he thinks Gowdy’s “initial assessment is accurate,” and he has seen “no evidence to the contrary” of what Gowdy said.
Hours after Ryan’s comments, Burr told The Associated Press that he, too, agreed with Gowdy.
“I have no disagreement with the description Trey Gowdy gave,” Burr said.
Democrats made similar comments immediately after the briefing. In a joint statement, the four Democrats who attended said “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”
That statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rep. Adam Schiff of California.