Ryan contradicts Trump’s claim that the FBI planted a ‘spy’
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a break with President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that he agrees there is no evidence that the FBI planted a “spy” in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in an effort to hurt his chances at the polls.
He also issued a careful warning about Trump’s recent assertion that he has the authority to pardon himself.
“I don’t know the technical answer to that question, but I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t and no one is above the law,” Ryan told reporters on Wednesday.
The comments come after Trump insisted in a series of angry tweets last month that the agency planted a spy “to help Crooked Hillary win,” referring to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
There is a growing sense that Republicans are uncomfortable with those statements. Ryan, R-Wisc., is one of three congressional Republicans who have now contradicted Trump on the spying matter, including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Ryan, Gowdy and Burr all attended classified briefings on the matter late last month, following reports that the FBI used an informant in its Russian election meddling investigation to speak to members of the Trump campaign who had possible connections to Russia.
The Department of Justice held two briefings on Trump’s orders after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had asked for documents concerning the informant. Trump said it was “starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”
Gowdy said afterward 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, 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,” and he has seen “no evidence to the contrary” of what Gowdy said.
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.
Despite the statements, some House lawmakers may continue to pursue the issue. Ryan said Congress has “more digging to do” and that he wished they had gotten the information earlier. Nunes has said the committee is still waiting for documents, and Ryan backed him on that Wednesday.
“We have some more documents to review, we still have some unanswered questions,” Ryan said.
Burr, however, appeared ready to move on, saying the briefing he attended “sufficiently covered everything to do with this right now.”
The Justice Department said late Wednesday it would extend an offer to top congressional lawmakers to brief them further and to provide another opportunity for the lawmakers to review “certain supporting documents” made available during the May 24 briefing. In a statement, the Justice Department said the department and the FBI “are prepared to brief members on certain questions specifically raised by the Speaker and other members.” The department said the briefing could take place Monday or Tuesday
On the pardon issue, Ryan joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in sending a subtle message to Trump.
Trump recently said he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself if it were necessary — which Trump says it won’t be, because “I have done nothing wrong.”
McConnell said Tuesday the question of whether Trump has legal authority to pardon himself is “an academic discussion,” but Trump “obviously knows that would not be something that he would or should do.”
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.