White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to discredit media reports that President Donald Trump's campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, U.S. media reported late on February 23.
The Associated Press, citing unidentified sources in the White House, said Priebus's request to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came after the FBI told the White House it believed a New York Times report describing Trump advisers' contacts with Russia was inaccurate.
Reports said that Priebus asked the FBI officials to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute The Times report and stories spawned by it, but they reportedly refused the request and have not said anything publicly about the matter.
CNN, which originally reported about Priebus's request, said Comey rejected it because the alleged contacts between Russians and Trump associates are the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation.
Such a request from the White House would be unusual and potentially controversial because of long-standing restrictions on communications between the White House and FBI over pending investigations. It already has sparked outrage among some Democrats.
Priebus may have approached other intelligence agencies with the same request to intervene with the media, CNN reported.
The White House itself denied The New York Times story, with Priebus calling it "complete garbage." On Fox News on February 19, Priebus dismissed what he called The Times story's "treasonous type of accusations."
"The top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there's nothing to it," Preibus said on the television show.