White House chief of staff Reince Priebus made a personal appeal to a top FBI official to dispute reports that multiple senior members of President Trump's campaign communicated with Russian agents during the 2016 election, senior White House officials confirmed to ABC News on Friday.
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Priebus had reached out to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in an effort to knock down reports of talks between campaign officials and Russia following a New York Times report on the matter last week, officials said.
Priebus only made the request after the FBI had told the White House there were accuracy issues with the Times' report, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
"When the FBI came to the White House to inform us that the story wasn't true we asked them if they'd be willing to correct the record," Spicer told ABC News.
According to one White House official, after McCabe told Priebus the story was false, he said to get back in touch and then immediately told the White House that the bureau shouldn't "get into calling balls and strikes on everything."
The New York Times reported earlier this month that U.S. intelligence found through intercepted calls and phone records that Trump campaign members and associates repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence agents.
CNN and The Associated Press first reported on Priebus' intervention, which is drawing heavy scrutiny from Democrats who argue that the communications break with precedent that ensures the FBI remains independent from White House influence. A White House official would not comment on whether Priebus’ communication was appropriate, though President Trump in a series of morning tweets appeared to blame the FBI for allowing the story to leak.
The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security "leakers" that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017
find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017
The FBI has so far declined to comment on the story to ABC News.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Priebus' actions should "concern all Americans, regardless of party."
"This is deeply troubling because of the inappropriate attempt to influence the FBI and because it may reveal a broader effort by the Trump White House to cover up malfeasance during the campaign," Conyers Jr. said.