The Justice Department announced Wednesday evening that it will hold back-to-back meetings on Thursday to review classified information concerning a confidential intelligence source in the Russia investigation.
The first meeting will include House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy and the second will include the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” and Gowdy.
The “Gang of Eight” consists of the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as congressional leaders from both parties.
The White House had come under intense criticism for politicizing U.S. intelligence operations and the Department of Justice (DOJ) because they initially said the briefing would be given only to Republicans.
President Donald Trump and other Republicans have accused the FBI of spying on the Trump campaign. In a series of tweets President Trump demanded that the DOJ begin a separate investigation into the spying allegations, and also turn over classified information to Republicans in Congress.
In a compromise, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had agreed to begin an investigation into the matter to be conducted by the DOJ Inspector General instead of a special counsel or a Congressional investigation panel. Also, instead of turning over classified material to Congress he got the president to agree to set up a meeting to review the classified materials instead.
In early May, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had subpoenaed classified DOJ documents but the DOJ had steadfastly refused to turn over the documents to the Congressman.
In a new development, it was announced on Wednesday night that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would attend both meetings. Previously it had been announced that he would not attend. Since Kelly’s position is partisan and he works for the president, including Kelly in the meetings was seen as a move to politicize the investigation.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday had jointly sent a letter to the DOJ requesting that in lieu of the briefing for just Republicans there be a bipartisan meeting instead. Rather than do that, however, the White House decided to hold two different meetings and include Democrats only in the second briefing.
A source inside the White House said that Trump indicated that he wanted the intelligence briefing to be nonpartisan. He said that if Democrats were able to view the classified materials about the FBI informant then they couldn’t accuse the White House of playing politics. Apparently he believes the real story is FBI misbehavior and he doesn’t want Democrats to take away from that story line, which he thinks will support his positions and make him look good.
Of course the only thing the FBI has done is investigate alleged crimes, so it is doubtful that Trump will find satisfaction in his quest to make the U.S. law enforcement agency look bad. Special counsel Robert Mueller is moving in on the president and his increasingly desperate political moves are evidence of that.