Justice Department Holds Second, Bipartisan Briefing On Classified Russia Probe Information : The Two-Way The White House acknowledged that chief of staff John Kelly and President Trump's new attorney had "facilitated" secret briefings on the Russia probe but didn't sit in for them.

WH: Kelly, Attorney Flood Didn't Stay For Secret Portions of Russia Briefings

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After days of buildup, senior intelligence and Justice Department officials sat down with congressional leaders today for two classified briefings. The White House brokered these meetings to give lawmakers access to documents related to a confidential FBI source who met with Trump campaign officials early on in the Russia investigation.

NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this and is here in the studio to tell us more. Hi, Ryan.


SHAPIRO: There was a lot of back-and-forth on who would attend these briefings. So start with the basics. Who was there?

LUCAS: Well, there were, as you said, two briefings. The man overseeing the Russia investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as the head of the FBI and the Director of the National Intelligence, Dan Coats - they led these briefings.

The first meeting was at the Justice Department, and it was organized for the two House Republican Chairmen, Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, who have been leading this push for more sensitive information related to the Russia investigation. In this instance, they want access to materials surrounding the FBI informant who was in contact with Trump campaign aides early on. The second briefing covered the same material, but it took place on Capitol Hill. It was for the bipartisan Gang of Eight - so the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate plus the top Democrat and Republican on the intelligence committees.

Now, these are not briefings that the FBI or Justice Department really wanted to give. They don't like to talk about their confidential sources. Those are very closely guarded for security reasons. But this is something that the White House was really insisting on.

SHAPIRO: And aside from the lawmakers, there were some surprise White House attendees - lawyers for President Trump.

LUCAS: That's right. There was the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, and the new White House attorney focused on the Russia investigation, man by the name of Emmet Flood. He also showed up for both of these briefings. And this is really (laughter), really irregular - highly irregular according to legal experts and even some Republican lawmakers.

For one, the White House had originally said that no White House officials would be at these meetings. And two, more importantly, this briefing was on materials from the Russia investigation, which of course relates to the president. So why, these people ask, is the president's lawyer present for any of the meeting when Trump is a possible subject of the investigation? Now, the White House for its part says that Kelly and Flood were there only to facilitate the meetings. They made short remarks, but they didn't stay for the briefings themselves.

SHAPIRO: OK. So you said there were some reactions from lawmakers to the presence of these White House officials there. What else did lawmakers say about these meetings?

LUCAS: Well, this was a class - this was a meeting about classified materials, so they didn't get into specifics. Democrats came out, said they didn't learn anything that would substantiate the allegations that there was a spy in the Trump campaign.

On the Republican side, our colleagues Sue Davis and Kelsey Snell sat down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the briefing. They asked him how Americans can have faith in the FBI and the Justice Department when the president and others are attacking those institutions. And here's what he said.

MITCH MCCONNELL: The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raised - the IG investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation - I support both of them, and I don't really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified.

LUCAS: Now, the IG is the Justice Department inspector general who is looking into alleged surveillance abuses as well as the handling of the Clinton email investigation.

SHAPIRO: Chairman Devin Nunes and his allies have been attacking the Justice Department for months over the Russia investigation. Is this meeting likely to change that at all?

LUCAS: Probably not. Nunes and the president have been pushing this narrative for a long time that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt. These spying allegations are definitely part of that. Democrats of course say that this is really just an attempt by Republicans to undermine the Mueller investigation. But it's important to point out here that the witch hunt allegations are coming from Nunes and Trump allies in the House.

We haven't heard the same thing from most Republicans in the Senate. We already heard earlier what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say. But the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, also says that Mueller should be allowed to do his job without interference. So this is not a pure partisan divide on this question.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas covering the investigation into the Russia investigation. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: My pleasure.

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