President Donald Trump lashed out at the Federal Bureau of Investigation over "leakers" on Friday, as his top aides sought to debunk reports of White House requests made to the law enforcement agency.
Meeting with reporters shortly after Trump tweeted criticisms of the FBI at about 7:30 a.m. in Washington, senior administration officials provided a detailed timeline of discussions Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had with the agency over news reports that Trump associates had contacts with Russian officials during the U.S. presidential campaign.
"The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security 'leakers' that have permeated our government for a long time," Trump said in Twitter 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 FBI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
CNN reported Thursday that White House officials had asked the FBI to counteract media stories about links between Trump's campaign and Russian officials. The FBI refused the request, which broke with protocol governing communications with the law enforcement agency regarding pending investigations, according to CNN. The Associated Press also reported on the request.
A senior administration official told reporters Friday that the request to the agency was only made after an FBI leader indicated to the White House that investigators didn't believe the news reports were accurate.
The administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal conversations between the White House and the FBI, said that the bureau's deputy director, Andrew McCabe, instigated the discussion on Feb. 15, the day after the New York Times published a report on contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials. McCabe asked Priebus for extra time at the end of an unrelated meeting at the White House, the official said, and then told the White House chief of staff that the FBI didn't consider the Times report to be accurate.
Priebus asked McCabe if he could say so publicly, according to the official. McCabe said he'd consider it, then called Priebus back later and declined, saying the FBI didn't want to criticize journalists, the official said.
FBI Director Jim Comey contacted the White House the same day and also discredited the story, but declined to take a public stance, according to the official. Priebus asked Comey if he could say publicly that intelligence officials had assured him the report was inaccurate, and Comey agreed.
The official declined to say whether the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russian officials, referring those questions to the FBI.
A second administration official, who also requested anonymity, said there was nothing inappropriate about Priebus's communication with the FBI over public-affairs issues. Priebus was discussing media coverage, not the ongoing investigation, the official said.
Trump has repeatedly attacked members of the intelligence community, calling out the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency over leaks and negative news stories. In several Twitter posts since being elected president, Trump has put the word "intelligence" in quotation marks. In a Twitter post last month, Trump compared the intelligence community to Nazi Germany.
Trump told reporters this month that the U.S. would find those leaking negative information about his administration.
"They're going to pay a big price," he said.
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