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FBI rejected White House request to publicly discredit reports about Russian ties

By
Andrew V. Pestano
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, seen here Thursday during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., had a conversation with FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on February 15. In that conversation, media outlets report Priebus requested the FBI to publicly discredit media reports about alleged contact between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials. Photo by Molly Riley/UPI
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, seen here Thursday during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., had a conversation with FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on February 15. In that conversation, media outlets report Priebus requested the FBI to publicly discredit media reports about alleged contact between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials. Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The FBI rejected a White House request to publicly discredit media reports about alleged contact between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials, U.S. officials said.

CNN reported -- citing multiple U.S. officials briefed on the matter -- White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke with FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe about having the FBI publicly correct media reports the FBI believed were factually incorrect.

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USA Today reported -- citing a U.S. official not authorized to comment publicly -- the White House sought to specifically refute reports by The New York Times published earlier in February alleging Trump associates had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials during the past year.

The direct contact between the White House and the FBI is unusual and possibly violated procedures limiting White House contact with the FBI on pending investigations.

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The White House confirmed the conversation occurred on Feb. 15 but objected to the characterization portrayed by the outlets, CNN reported.

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"To be clear, it was the FBI that contacted the White House to rebut The New York Times' story," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday. "We merely asked them to inform journalists of the same point that they were making to us."

"We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth," Spicer said.

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The sources said Comey rejected Priebus' request for the FBI to comment on the media reports because the alleged communication between Trump associates and Russia is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the report should concern both Republicans and Democrats. He called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into what he said were "clear ties" between Trump's administration and Russian officials.

"The need for an independent, bipartisan investigation into these matters has never been more clear," Conyers said. "The Trump team has clear ties to the Russian government -- and we ignore those ties at our own peril."

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Trump criticized the FBI in a series of posts Friday morning, urging the law enforcement agency to find who is leaking sensitive information to the media.

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"The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security "leakers" that have permeated our government for a long time," he wrote. "They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW."

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