- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2017

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials have assured the administration that none of President Trump’s campaign aides had contact with Russian spies and that news reports that speculate otherwise are “complete garbage.”

Mr. Priebus made the comments as the Trump administration forcefully pushed back against reports that began with an anonymously sourced story in The New York Times that dominated news coverage for days.

“I’ve been approved to say this. The top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that story is not only inaccurate, but it is grossly overstated and it was wrong and there was nothing to it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“To accuse an organization of being in constant contact with Russian spies is outrageous. Every day, it’s something different,” Mr. Priebus said. “It’s some other source that is absolutely untrue. Instead of talking about the things that are going on.”

The allegations of a Russian connection began almost immediately after Mr. Trump’s upset victory in November. Democrats seized on the story to question the legitimacy of the election results.

Since then, the story has become the focus of major news organizations and prompted calls on Capitol Hill for investigations into Russian email hacking during the campaign to include links to Mr. Trump.

The news reports, some based on anonymous sources within the intelligence community, have alarmed the White House and top Republican lawmakers who believe leaks are emanating from Obama loyalists within the government.

At a press conference last week, Mr. Trump ruled out any ties to Russia.

“I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” he said.

“This is fake news put out by the media. The real news is the fact that people, probably from the Obama administration because they’re there,” are driving the story.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, bolstered the president’s argument by saying Obama administration holdovers appeared to be illegally leaking information designed to damage Mr. Trump.

“We do have people in the last administration, people who have burrowed in, perhaps all throughout the government, who clearly are leaking to the press — and it is against the law,” Mr. Nunes said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Major laws have been broken. If you believe The Washington Post story that said there were nine people who said this, well these are nine people who broke the law,” he said.

The Washington Post story revealed that Michael Flynn, whom Mr. Trump had chosen as national security adviser, misled White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition. As a result, Mr. Trump forced him to resign.

The White House insisted that Mr. Flynn’s downfall was failing to tell Mr. Pence that the discussion included recent U.S. sanctions against Russia — a burning issue almost solely because of the news media’s ongoing focus on alleged Trump-Moscow intrigue — not because of illegal or improper conduct for a national security adviser.

Mr. Nunes also said the problem started with Obama-era holdovers, not a rift between Mr. Trump and the intelligence community, as some news organizations reported.

“Let’s get straight what we’re talking about with the intelligence agencies because I think there’s a lot of innuendo out there that the intelligence agencies have a problem with Donald Trump,” he said. “The rank-and-file people that are out doing jobs across the world in very difficult places, they don’t pay attention to what’s going on in Washington.”

Mr. Priebus said the “fake news” was a serious problem.

“All day long on every chyron, every seven minutes talking about Russian spies, talking about the intelligence community, talking about how me and [White House chief strategist] Steve Bannon don’t like each other and what’s [White House adviser Kellyanne Conway] doing,” he said. “All of this total garbage, unsourced stuff.”

“All I’m saying is if you’re going to come out with a story that says Russian spies are talking to your campaign — oh my God — I think you should in most cases actually have a named source,” Mr. Priebus said. “Look at what we have done: We’ve repealed [the Trans-Pacific Partnership], we have signed a coal bill to save the coal industry, we named Neil Gorsuch [for the Supreme Court], we deregulated the federal government. There’s so many things to talk about.”

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