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John Kelly, Trump attorney attendance at Russia probe briefing raises eyebrows

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle received classified briefings from top Justice Department and intelligence officials on Thursday, following days of tense negotiations. Did Congress members learn anything new about an FBI source who President Trump claims infiltrated his 2016 presidential campaign? Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For a select group of senior lawmakers, part of this day was spent meeting with top Justice Department and intelligence officials. The topic was a sensitive, the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation, and contacts between the Trump campaign and one of the bureau's confidential sources.

    President Trump, this week, has used this very issue to attack the legitimacy of the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has been following this story and she joins us me now.

    So, Lisa, what a dramatic day. Two separate briefings, top intelligence, Department of Justice officials going to the Hill. Take us through why there were two.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. They were on the exact same topic, what was known about an informant working with the FBI as they looked into the Trump campaign.

    The first was with the Department of Justice, Judy. And that was the first initiated, it was by Republicans especially in the House, Devin Nunes, House intelligence chairman, that he had all these questions and he wanted the FBI to answer them in a classified setting. The White House intervened and helped that meeting come together.

    Well, then, also House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, another Republican, was added to that invitation list.

    Who wasn't on it as we reported? Democrats, nor other Senate intelligence, ranking and chairman were not involved.

    So, that was the second meeting, the Gang of Eight. Usually that is the group of top leaders responsible for looking intelligence matters like this that includes the top Republican and Democrat in each chamber and the top Republican and Democrat on each intelligence committee. That's why there were two meetings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, this investigation, Lisa, as we know, is about Russia — whether there was a connection between the Trump campaign, the Trump White House and Russia. Why was the White House — how was the White House involved in setting all this up?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, we have now seen actually the investigate split. The Mueller investigation is looking into any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. But now, there are questions and investigation, all of that investigation, how the FBI has handled things?

    And today, one eyebrow-raising moment, Judy, I saw as I waited for the meeting at the Senate with the Gang of Eight, who did I see? Chief of Staff John Kelly, we knew he would be there, but also if you look at the left of this photo, that man is Emmet Flood. He is the White House attorney handling the Mueller investigation.

    So, when you think about this, Judy, then you have a person representing the president and the White House, talking about classified information for an investigation that may include the president as a target. Even some Republicans were concerned, including Lindsey Graham who told me he found it odd and wanted to know why that happened. The White House and also Democratic sources say those White House officials did not get involved in the classified section of these briefings but instead gave remarks.

    Still, if they were arguing the president's case here, is an exceptional circumstance, Democrat Mark Warner, the top Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent out a tweet. A very rare strong statement from him saying that the president, chief of staff and attorney have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing.

    There is real concern about lines being crossed here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, after the briefing, Democrats made a statement, a short one. Tell us about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. The Democrats huddled for quite some time after this meeting. They decided to send out one representative, that is Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. He read just a 25-second statement saying we learned nothing new, we still feel there is no evidence, saying that the FBI did anything wrong and then he left it at that.

    Behind the scenes, Judy, I know Democrats are concerned they do not want to be looked at as undermining any investigation or leaking any classified information. But at the same time, they believe this whole process is about undermining Mueller. Some Republicans feel differently.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's interesting, Republicans also said nothing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Potentially confronting questions about whether they agree with the president's charge.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We got just a single statement from Speaker Paul Ryan. He was in that first meeting. And he basically said, I was happy that we got this information and Congress has an oversight role.

    So, in the end, Judy, I don't think we learned anything and it's not clear that even our lawmakers learned anything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, is this — so, there's — that's what I was going to ask. Is there any sense that any new information, that they picked up any? Are they any closer to understanding whether the president is right about whether the FBI was spying on his campaign?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    If you listen to the statement from Democrats, no. They say there was no new evidence today. But Republicans have not spoken, in general, about the substance of this meeting. Of course, it was classified.

    We as reporters, we as a nation, we don't have any more information, and what we do have is a very difficult situation of what is distraction and what is important debate about the actions of our lawmakers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Further sign this investigation is taking over so much of this city.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, we have to pay careful attention.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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