Updated at 11:39 a.m. ET
The White House said Thursday it doesn’t see a problem with Chief of Staff John Kelly attending a briefing at which intelligence and law enforcement leaders brief members of Congress on secret information about the Russia probe.
I “don’t see what the issue is,” one official told NPR.
Kelly and the White House have been brokering the conversations since President Trump said on Twitter over the weekend that he wanted to learn more about the FBI’s use of confidential informants to interview campaign aides in 2016.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders had said earlier that no one from the White House would attend the resulting conferences, but those arrangements have changed after the back-and-forth up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Critics charge that Trump has violated the longstanding independence of the Justice Department to pursue investigations without political interference and call it inappropriate for an administration official to be a party to briefing about an investigation that bears so heavily on the president and his aides.
“The White House’s plan to provide a separate briefing for their political allies demonstrates that their interest is not in informing Congress, but in undermining an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee.
“If they insist upon carrying out this farce, the White House and its Republican allies in the House will do permanent, longstanding damage to the practice of bipartisan congressional oversight of intelligence.”
The Justice Department said it plans to give a second bipartisan briefing Thursday on classified information related to the Russia investigation after complaints from Democrats that they were being excluded from a similar Republicans-only meeting set for earlier in the day.
The second briefing, which includes the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders, is scheduled for 2 p.m., following the previously scheduled noon briefing for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Ca., and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Nunes and Gowdy and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will attend both briefings, conducted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
The briefings follow Trump’s angry denunciations about the FBI’s use of a secret informant to determine whether aides from the Trump campaign were meeting with Russian officials.
SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2018
“A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “If so, that would be a disgrace to this country. I hope there weren’t, frankly … but some man got paid based on what I read in the newspapers.”
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president last year, responded via Twitter, denouncing attacks on the agency and defending its use of confidential informants as “tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country.”
He said the president’s attacks on the FBI “will do lasting damage to our country.”
Facts matter. The FBI’s use of Confidential Human Sources (the actual term) is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?
— James Comey (@Comey) May 23, 2018
Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.