President Donald Trump chastised the FBI Friday morning for being “totally unable” to locate the source of media leaks, even as the White House scrambled to contain fallout from new reports of the White House asking the FBI to knock down damaging stories.
“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” Trump wrote on Twitter, breaking his message up into multiple posts. “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.”
The president’s remark comes on the same day that at least two cable news channels, CNN and MSNBC, devoted significant airtime to reports that the FBI had refused to publicly dispute news that individuals associated with Trump had been in touch with senior Russian intelligence officials during last year’s presidential campaign. CNN first reported Thursday evening that chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to throw cold water on a New York Times story about campaign contacts with Russia, but that the FBI declined. The Associated Press reported a similar story Friday morning.
The White House pushed back intensely on the story, laying out a timeline of how it said the communication with the FBI went down, but its own account has shifted over the past 24 hours.
A senior administration official said on Friday that FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe told Priebus at an unrelated morning meeting on Feb. 15 that the Times story was “bullshit.” Priebus asked what could be done and McCabe reportedly demurred, only to contact Priebus later to say the FBI could not publicly denounce the story, the official said.
“We’d love to help but we can’t get into the position of making statements on every story,” McCabe said, according to the administration official. McCabe did however tell Priebus he could cite “senior intelligence officials” saying there is nothing to the story, the official said on Friday.
FBI Director James Comey later contacted Priebus himself, the official said, to reiterate that the Times story was inaccurate but state that the FBI could not put out a statement, the senior administration official said. The official went on to say they are not aware of an FBI investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, but cannot say no definitively.
The senior official’s account Friday morning aligned closely with the CNN report — namely that Preibus and McCabe discussed the matter in person. The White House, however, initially told CNN the discussion had started with McCabe calling Priebus, but it has since corrected that account.