Reince Priebus's request that the FBI refute a report of Donald Trump associates' contacts with Russian intelligence appears to have violated the White House's policy restricting political interference in pending investigations, according to a copy of the policy obtained by POLITICO.The policy says only the president, vice president and White House counsel can discuss specific investigations or cases with the attorney general, deputy attorney general, associate attorney general or solicitor general. Any other conversations require the approval of the White House counsel, according to the document.
When there's a major development in an ongoing controversy, it's important to consider the news at face value, but it's also important to reconsider previous details in light of new evidence.Take White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus' communications with the FBI, for example.We learned about a month ago that Priebus spoke with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe about Team Trump's Russia scandal, and by some accounts, the White House chief of staff hoped to persuade FBI officials to reach out to journalists to downplay the significance of the controversy.As we discussed at the time, there are rules in place that severely limit the communications between the FBI and the White House, though in this case, Reince Priebus either didn't know or didn't care about those restrictions. Politico had a report over the weekend -- before yesterday's testimony from FBI Director James Comey, obviously -- about the communications.
In other words, Priebus' chats with the deputy director of the FBI -- communications that the White House has already acknowledged -- were problematic on their face.But in light of yesterday's news, they seem quite a bit worse.Based on what we now know, the White House chief of staff improperly communicated with a leading FBI official while an FBI counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign was already underway. Priebus hoped to get the FBI's help in knocking down reports of a scandal while the FBI was reviewing that scandal.None of this requires any supposition. We now know the FBI investigation is real and confirmed; we know Priebus had improper communications with the FBI about the investigation while it was ongoing.Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen added this morning that Priebus, confronted with last month's reports, claimed that the FBI reached out to him, claims that were dubious at the time, but which now appear even worse. Why would the FBI want the White House's help downplaying its own ongoing counter-intelligence probe?What the White House intends to do about this remains an open question.