White House press secretary Sean Spicer reportedly enlisted the CIA director and a Republican senator in an effort to discredit a newspaper report about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia.
After the New York Times reported Feb. 15 that Trump campaign aides had “repeated contacts” with Russian intelligence officials, Spicer connected reporters from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC), reported Axios.
Spicer also gave reporters’ phone numbers to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who offered to make the calls himself but “was in and out of an event,” according to a senior administration official who described the press secretary’s campaign to the website.
The Axios report adds new details and reveals Pompeo was involved in a pushback campaign reported Friday by the Washington Post.
Spicer personally picked up the phone and connected Pompeo and Burr with the reporters and then remained on the line for their brief conversations, Axios reported.
Those calls were orchestrated after White House chief of staff Reince Priebus tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI’s director and deputy director to speak with news organizations to dispute the accuracy of reporting on the alleged campaign ties to Russia, the Post reported.
Pompeo and Burr told the reporters simply that the Times report was not accurate but frustrated the journalists by declining to offer specifics.
Intelligence officials from the Obama administration told the website that Pompeo’s involvement was unusual because the CIA director rarely speaks with individual reporters but was typically held in reserve to speak with publishers and executive editors in cases where reporting could potentially harm national security.
Democrats have questioned whether public comments about the probe made by Burr and Nunes at the White House’s request have compromised the congressional investigation.
“It’s doubtful that Congress can conduct an objective and independent investigation into ties between this White House and the Russian government if it is collaborating so closely on media pushback with the White House press secretary,” George Little, a top CIA and Pentagon spokesman under Obama, told Axios.
Spicer declined to comment on the Axios report, but the website’s White House source said the press secretary did not know at the time whether an investigation was underway about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian intelligence.