The White House did issue its own denial, with Priebus calling The New York Times story “complete garbage.”
“The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. 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. And there’s nothing to it,” Preibus said on Fox News Sunday last weekend.
CNN has previously reported that there was constant communication between high-level advisers to then-candidate Trump, Russian officials and other Russians known to US intelligence during the summer of 2016.
Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees tell CNN that the congressional investigations are continuing into those alleged Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, despite Priebus’ assertion that there is nothing to those reports.
It is uncertain what the committees will eventually find and whether any of the information will ever be declassified and publicly released. But the push to investigate further shows that Capitol Hill is digging deeper into areas that may not be comfortable for the White House.
The Trump administration’s efforts to press Comey run contrary to Justice Department procedure memos issued in 2007 and 2009 that limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI.
“Initial communications between the [Justice] Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House,” reads the 2009 memo.
The memos say the communication should only happen when it is important for the President’s duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.
A Department of Justice spokesman said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing the memos and that “the Department is following the guidelines in its communications with the White House.”
The White House and the FBI declined to comment publicly for this story.
The effort to refute the CNN and New York Times stories came as increasing numbers of congressional members were voicing concern about Russia’s efforts to influence individuals with ties to Trump.
On February 17, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a briefing with Comey. It’s unclear what was said, but senators suggested there was new information discussed about Russia.
“Every briefing we go through we gain new information,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the committee. Lankford declined to be more specific about the briefing.
Sen. Angus King of Maine also declined to reveal what was discussed during the Comey briefing. In response to a question on Priebus’ strong denial of the claims, King said he was “surprised” that Priebus would be “that categorical.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of his panel’s inquiry is to follow “leads wherever they go even if they may be uncomfortable to Republicans.”
“The American public will want to know if the President had personal or financial ties to the Russian government,” Swalwell said.