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Politics & Government

Classified Briefings Inform Lawmakers On Russia Influence Probe


Justice Department and intelligence officials sat down with members of Congress for two classified briefings yesterday. One took place at the Justice Department, the other on Capitol Hill with top lawmakers. These were scheduled following unsubstantiated claims by President Trump that the FBI placed an informant in his campaign during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Congressman Joaquin Castro is on the House Intelligence Committee. He's a Democrat and joins us on the line from his home district in San Antonio, Texas. Congressman, welcome.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Thank you. Great to be with you.

GREENE: Well, it's nice to have you back. I know top members from your committee were in this briefing. You weren't there yourself. What are you hearing from them in terms of answering this question of whether there's some sort of proof of the president's allegations about spying in his campaign?

CASTRO: Well, the same thing that was said before, which is none of us has seen any evidence that there was a spy in Donald Trump's campaign. And the FBI acted appropriately, and that, you know, they followed standard operating procedure, just as they would in any other investigation. And what was very troubling about yesterday's meeting - well, first, that there were two separate meetings. There was really no need for two separate meetings and that John Kelly...

GREENE: We should say there was one with just Republicans. Then there was another with the so-called Gang of Eight that included Democrats as well as Republicans.

CASTRO: Right. It represents really the partisan politicization of these meetings of the flow of information from the Justice Department, the FBI over to Congress. But in that second meeting, I believe, with the Gang of Eight - the White House chief of staff and a member of the president's legal team showed up at that second meeting with the Gang of Eight, which is very troubling.

GREENE: Why is that troubling to you?

CASTRO: Well, because I believe what's been going on - and I know others believe it as well - is that the president has tried to use members of Congress like Devin Nunes in particular to get information from the executive agencies, information that he wouldn't otherwise know is (inaudible) to get. He's been using them to get that information. And then as Rudy Giuliani himself indicated yesterday, once they had that information, then they can handicap their legal liability and make decisions about whether to talk to Bob Mueller, for example. So it's a completely...

GREENE: But, Congressman, let me - I'm sorry to interrupt. But let me just press you on that a little bit because why would the FBI and the Department of Justice agree to all of this if they were worried that it was political? I mean, couldn't they have just said no?

CASTRO: That's a great question. And the answer is yes, they should have said no. I don't know why they agreed to this. And I think it's probably because they're basically being backed down and bullied by the administration and by Congress, by Devin Nunes, the chairman. And you've got an FBI director and probably Rod Rosenstein who are basically isolated and afraid of losing their jobs probably. And so ultimately, they end up giving the information to Devin Nunes when he berates them and the president berates them and they give in.

GREENE: Do you have evidence that people who work in Justice or the FBI have been bullied by the White House?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, I think all you have to do is look at President Trump's tweets and then the fact that Devin Nunes keeps going after them. And now, this is at least the second time that they've essentially acquiesced to the unreasonable demands of Devin Nunes, who's acting on behalf of the president. The first one was regarding the FISA application, for example.

GREENE: That's the special court that can approve all sorts of things that we don't necessarily know about that was very central in some of the debates over the Russia investigation. We'll have to leave the conversation there, so much to talk about on this topic of course. Congressman Joaquin Castro, Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, joining us from Texas. Thanks, Congressman.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.