White House Denies Report It Ordered FBI to 'Knock Down' Trump-Russia Stories

'We didn't try to knock the story down, we asked them to tell the truth'

Reince Priebus
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus / AP
February 24, 2017

The White House is pushing back against Thursday's CNN report that the FBI rejected a request from chief of staff Reince Priebus to "knock down media reports" on communication between associates of President Trump and Russia.

Democrats seized on the report, which said that the White House violated restrictions on administration officials contacting the FBI about ongoing investigations. One former Obama aide quickly called for Priebus to resign, calling it a "massive scandal."

Senior administration officials told reporters on Friday morning that the topic of whether there was communication between Trump's team and Russia was initially brought up to Priebus by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who said that the New York Times reporting was "bullshit."

The comment came during an intelligence meeting on Feb. 15 that was unrelated to the Trump-Russia story. Priebus, according to the administration officials, responded to the comment from McCabe by asking what can be done in response to the story, noting that the White House was "getting crushed."

McCabe told Priebus that he would get back to him, and later contacted him to say that the FBI would "love to help but we can't get into the position of making statements on every story."

Priebus was told by McCabe that he could say that "senior intelligence officials" said that there was nothing to the New York Times report, which stated that "Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials." The officials said that FBI director James Comey later contacted Priebus to reiterate that the story was false but the agency could not comment.

Priebus initially called the story "complete garbage," and noted in television interviews last weekend that the intelligence community assured him of that.

"I can assure you and I have been approved to say this—that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong," Priebus said. "And there's nothing to it."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has called the CNN report inaccurate.

"We didn't try to knock the story down," Spicer told CNN in a comment that was added after the report was initially published. "We asked them to tell the truth."

"What you guys have done is indefensible and inaccurate," Spicer said in a message directed towards CNN.

President Trump used the story as an opportunity to further speak out against the leakers that he says have "permeated our government."

"The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security 'leakers' that have permeated our government for a long time," Trump said on Twitter. "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.," he wrote.