Two highly classified meetings about the Trump-Russia investigation held Thursday had a surprise participant: one of President Donald Trump’s lawyers. And he got an earful for it.
Emmet Flood, the new lawyer for the White House overseeing its response to the Mueller probe, headed into the Justice Department with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly late Thursday morning and departed with him when the meeting was over. Flood also accompanied Kelly in and out of a second meeting held on Capitol Hill.
The first meeting included Rep. Trey Gowdy, Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Devin Nunes, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Rod Rosenstein, and Chris Wray, as well as brief appearances from Kelly and Flood. The second included the Congressional “Gang of Eight,” the leaders of both parties from both chambers, as well as the heads of the intelligence committees.
Flood and Kelly left soon after appearing in the Capitol Hill meeting. More than one participant in that meeting told Flood his appearance was inappropriate, according to a Congressional official familiar with the meeting.
The White House downplayed Flood’s role in the meeting. In a statement, the White House press office said Flood and Kelly only went to the meetings to “facilitate” them.
“Neither Chief Kelly nor Mr. Flood actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meetings started to relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law,” the statement said. “They also conveyed the President’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government.”
But Flood’s presence fueled the perception that the White House was trying to monitor the investigation into the Trump campaign. And Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, helped.
“We want to see how the briefing went to today and how much we learned from it,” he told Politico, referring to how he’s deciding whether or not Trump will sit for an interview with Mueller. “If we learned a good deal from it, it will shorten that whole process considerably.”
Carrie Cordero, formerly an attorney in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said Flood’s attendance created the appearance of impropriety.
“It creates the appearance that the briefing was set up for the purpose of the defense team learning what was going on in the investigation,” she told The Daily Beast. “That’s the optics of it. Whether or not that is really what’s happening, we don’t exactly know. But I can’t think of any positive reason for him having been there.”
The meeting focused on reports that the FBI used a confidential informant to gather information about the Trump campaign, which Trump claims was the FBI spying on his campaign.
Cordero said the meeting appeared designed to quell Trump’s concerns.
“I think that this is the House intel chair working with the president to discredit the investigation,” she said. “So I think the DOJ held this meeting to in some ways placate the White House and prevent the president from taking further action that would be more disruptive. But I haven’t seen anything revealed that gives any credence to the allegation that the FBI did anything inappropriate by using this confidential source.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, attended both meetings and said he saw no evidence of wrongdoing by the FBI.
“Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign,” he told reporters after the second meeting.
Schiff said in a statement released later that he told Flood his appearance at the meeting was “completely inappropriate.”
Mark Warner, the Senate intelligence committee’s top Democrat, echoed Schiff.
“For the record, the President’s Chief of Staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” he said on Twitter.