By Jordan Fabian and Katie Bo Williams, The Hill–
The White House is planning a separate meeting for bipartisan House and Senate leaders to receive classified information related to the Russia investigation, responding to pressure over a decision to exclude Democrats from a highly anticipated Thursday briefing.
The group, known as the Gang of Eight, will huddle with officials representing the Justice Department, law enforcement and intelligence on Thursday afternoon – two hours after the same group of officials will hold a solo meeting with Republican lawmakers.
Thursday’s planned meeting with only House Republicans “will proceed as previously scheduled,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said – with no Democrats present. It is set for 12 o’clockThursdayafternoon, according to the Justice Department.
That meeting is expected to cover the use of a confidential informant in the early months of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.
In a new development revealed by the DOJ on Wednesday night, White House chief of staff John Kelly will attend both meetings. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had previously said that he would not attend, although he was brokering the original meeting.
White House officials threw together Thursday’s briefing for GOP lawmakers after Trump demanded the Justice Department investigate unsubstantiated allegations that the FBI “planted” a “spy” on his 2016 campaign.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a vocal Trump backer, has subpoenaed documents he believes could substantiate those claims.
Many suspect that Trump’s GOP allies are using the document requests to muddy the waters in the Russia probe and perhaps lay the groundwork for firing the officials who are leading it, such as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Democrats in both chambers have been clamoring to receive a bipartisan briefing on the matter since the White House announced that only Nunes and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) would be meeting with senior Justice Department and intelligence officials to discuss allegations.
The “Gang of Eight” includes the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as both parties’ leaders of the House and Senate intelligence panels.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the Justice Department on Wednesday requesting a briefing for the full “gang,” but they wanted it in lieu of the GOP-only briefing.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained the initial decision to leave Democrats out was because they had not requested the information and therefore did not deserve to be “randomly invited.”
Trump’s critics had feared that if only Republicans were allowed to view the information, they could use it for political purposes.
Less than 24 hours before that proposed meeting, however, it remained unclear what information the two GOP lawmakers would be told.
But that meeting will not be the first time Nunes has been briefed by the Justice Department without his Democratic counterpart on the committee.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), in the past has received a separate but reportedly identical briefing on Nunes-led requests.
Schiff told reporters on Tuesday night that the Justice Department and the FBI had told him that Nunes “refused” to receive the briefings in the same room as Schiff.
The dueling briefings are highly unusual in intelligence oversight and signal the depths of partisan rancor on the House intel panel.