|In this May 10, 2018 photo, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meets with reporters during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ryan is agreeing with another senior House Republican who says there’s no evidence that the FBI planted a "spy" on President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. The comments contradict Trump, who has insisted the agency planted a "spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win."|
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has offered lawmakers a third classified briefing next week on the FBI's use of a secret informant in the Russia probe, as it tries to quell allegations that it improperly spied on President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
The offer comes as three senior Republicans say they have not seen evidence that the FBI acted inappropriately. Their comments contradict Trump's claims that the agency planted a spy "to help Crooked Hillary win," referring to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who received earlier classified briefings on the matter, debunked the allegation on Wednesday, but added that there is "more digging to do."
"We have some more documents to review. We still have some unanswered questions," Ryan said.
The Justice Department is trying to blunt criticism from House conservatives who have pressed for documents and criticized special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., demanded documents on the informant, while Trump dubbed the matter "spygate" and said it was "starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history."
Under Trump's orders, the Justice Department held two briefings May 24.
Ryan said Wednesday that he agreed with House Oversight and Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., that there is no evidence of a planted spy. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said he has seen no evidence of that.
Late Wednesday evening, a senior Justice Department official said the department and the FBI would offer an additional briefing to the so-called "Gang of 8," which includes congressional leaders from both parties and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees. The official said they would provide new documents and also "the documents that were available for review but not inspected by the members at the previous briefing."
The official said they are prepared to "brief members on certain questions specifically raised by Ryan and other members." The official declined to be named because the briefings are classified.
The department originally denied Congress access to any of the documents, citing national security concerns. But they eventually relented after pressure from Trump, Nunes and Ryan.
The Justice Department and FBI believe they "can provide information that is directly responsive to congressional inquiries in a manner that is consistent with its national security and law enforcement responsibilities, and is pleased to do so," the official said in a statement.
Though senators are invited to the briefing, there has been less interest in that chamber in prolonging the public fight over information concerning the informant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the briefing that he learned "nothing particularly surprising." On Wednesday, Burr appeared ready to move on, saying the briefing he attended "sufficiently covered everything to do with this right now."
After the original briefings, Gowdy was the first to disagree with Trump on the matter, saying days later that the FBI was doing its duty.
"I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got," Gowdy said on Fox News last week. "And that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump."
Gowdy added, in a separate interview on "CBS This Morning," that such informants are used all the time and "the FBI, if they were at the table this morning, they would tell you that Russia was the target and Russia's intentions toward our country were the target."
Ryan told reporters on Wednesday that he thinks Gowdy's "initial assessment is accurate."
Hours after Ryan's comments, Burr told The Associated Press that he, too, agreed with Gowdy.
"I have no disagreement with the description Trey Gowdy gave," Burr said.
Democrats made similar comments immediately after the briefing. In a joint statement, the four Democrats who attended said "there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a 'spy' in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols."
That statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rep. Adam Schiff of California.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.