So far, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has managed to stay out of the headlines of the stories about the Trump/Russia probe. He was not a member of the Trump campaign team as head of the RNC during the election. But according to a report in the Daily Beast, he might have cause to worry about being implicated in the cover-up. To understand why, perhaps a timeline of events from mid-February would be helpful.
February 13 – Trump is forced to fire his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
February 14 – Trump meets privately with then-FBI Director Comey and asks him to stop the investigation into Flynn’s activities. Comey wrote a memo documenting the meeting.
February 14 – The New York Times publishes this story:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
February 15 – CNN reports this happened:
The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN…
White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said…
The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official…
The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.
Just to be clear, former CIA Director John Brennan basically corroborated the original NYT story during his testimony this week.
U.S. intelligence officials learned about contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign associates and Russian officials last year, sparking concerns that the Kremlin could try to cultivate people close to Mr. Trump, former CIA director John Brennan testified Tuesday.
From the Daily Beast article, here is why all of that could pose a problem for Priebus:
Comey, the former FBI director who was fired earlier this month by Trump, took detailed notes of his interactions with the president and senior Trump administration officials in order to properly document conversations that were on the verge of improper.
Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats, and how it might play in the press and to investigators…
According to one former general counsel of a large law-enforcement organization who is familiar with Comey, the fired FBI director took judicious notes on likely every conversation he had with anyone from the White House—and he almost certainly wrote a memo about the Feb. 15 conversation with Priebus.
It is clear that whatever Priebus said to Comey on February 15th has been documented in a memo and is very likely to eventually be made public. The sources who talked to the Daily Beast indicated that the Chief of Staff is worried about that. It could be that whatever he said will simply reflect badly on him. Or it could be that he is complicit in attempting to obstruct justice. The less we hear about all this when Comey testifies publicly, the more it will indicate the latter.
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