Trump Reportedly Recruited Lawmakers, Intel Officials to Deny Russian Contacts to Media

Administration had approached FBI officials asking them to tell news outlets their reports were wrong, but FBI refused, leading Trump to reach out to other intelligence agencies.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017.
Eric Thayer/Bloomberg

U.S. Congressmen and intelligence officials were recruited by the Trump administration to contact media organizations and speak against reports of the close ties that are believed to exist between Trump's team and Russian officials, possibly dating back into his presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported Friday.

According to the report, the Trump recruits reached out to reporters from multiple major outlets, including The Washington Post, and denied the validity of previous stories in broad terms while refusing to answer detailed questions on the matter. None of the officials seemed to have made an impression on news outlets however, and none of them published their comments.

The revelation that members of the intelligence community had acted on orders from the administration raised concerns for the mandate of impartiality imposed on U.S. intelligence agencies and threatened the integrity of Congressional investigations into Russian involvement in U.S. politics. 

Two of the officials contacted the media as anonymous sources. The Washington Post report was released the same day that Trump publicly decried the practice of citing unnamed sources in news reports, saying that it shouldn't be allowed.

Notably, none of those who contacted the media on behalf of the administration were from the FBI. The white House conceded Friday that it had deliberated with FBI officials in an effort to recruit them to contact the press in a similar manner, but was rejected. There was no acknowledgment however, of the officials who did speak to the media, suggesting that the administration had turned to them after being turned down by members of the FBI.

Senator Richard Burr and Rep. Devin Nunes were among the officials recruited in the effort to push back against media reports connecting the Trump administration to Russian intelligence officials. The two lawmakers serve as the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees, making them privy to classified material pertaining to Russia.

Contrary to the others, Nunes spoke on the record and said he had already been vocal in the media against the reports, but both he and Burr confirmed that they had spoken with the White House on the matter.

Rumors of Trump's ties to Russia gained credibility on February 14 when a New YorK Times report said intelligence services had intercepted communications between senior Trump aides and Russian intelligence officials around the same time Russia is believed to have hacked the Democratic Party network.

According to a CNN report, White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus contacted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe regarding the story. However, a White House official disputed that account and told CNN that it was McCabe who reached out to Priebus and told him, "I want you to know," that the New York Times story "is BS."