WASHINGTON – In the summer of 2016, days after the FBI opened its investigation into now-debunked claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, then-Obama administration Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was one of a handful of officials to receive a Situation Room briefing on the nascent probe.
McDonough, now the Biden administration’s secretary of Veterans Affairs, has largely skirted attention for his presence at the meeting, but Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday she is probing his participation – and what role he may have played in the ensuing investigation, The Post has exclusively learned.
“According to then-FBI Director Jim Comey, you attended this meeting with then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-CIA Director John Brennan and then-Director of the National Security Agency Michael Rogers,” Blackburn wrote in a letter to McDonough requesting more information.
The Trump-Russia investigation included surveillance of members of the campaign team, and Blackburn wants to know whether McDonough had a hand in directing such efforts.
While the Justice Department later cleared Trump of conspiring with Russia, evidence was found that Moscow conducted efforts on its own to influence the election’s outcome in the 45th president’s favor.
“If Secretary McDonough finds it acceptable to target political opposition, does he apply that same prejudiced standard to the care of our veterans?” Blackburn told The Post on Wednesday.
The Senator requested McDonough respond by June 15 to a series of questions, including whether White House officials gave “any orders or directives” to the FBI during the meeting and if McDonough participated in any other meetings about the investigation – dubbed “Hurricane Crossfire” – either with or without then-President Barack Obama present.
“Congress has a legitimate interest in obtaining information regarding the discussions that took place to ensure accountability and fully understand the Obama Administration’s actions to initiate a criminal investigation into a political opponent’s campaign based on meritless claims from disreputable sources, including personnel from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” Blackburn wrote.
She also asked McDonough to answer why Obama was briefed on the investigation and whether there were “any regarding the legal concerns of the Obama White House being involved in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
According to the 2019 Justice Department watchdog report that outed McDonough’s presence at the meeting, the “FBI does not routinely brief ongoing cases to the White House,” though the FBI director may brief the White House from ongoing investigations “due to certain national security considerations.”
The 2019 report did not specify a date when the meeting took place, but a report issued this month by special counsel John Durham describes a Situation Room meeting among top officials that happened on Aug. 3, 2016.
The inquiry by Blackburn comes after McDonough told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on May 17 he forgot about his involvement in the meeting after Blackburn said she was “disappointed” to learn he had been present.
“You are charged with leading a very important agency; the work that you do is vital to our veterans. And it is of tremendous concern to me … that you would have been involved in this process of weaponizing the FBI, this is something that should never happen,” she said at the time.
McDonough said he was “not sure I know which meeting you’re talking about” but added he would be “more than happy” to review his records, which Blackburn again asked him to do in her Wednesday letter.
“People do not want to see two tiers of justice, and as we talk about the VA, they want to see a standard of service for everybody and they want to see that consistency,” Blackburn said during the May 17 hearing. “And to know that you may have been a participant in this investigation that you were a part of this meeting as detailed in the situation room that they carried out this – this hoax, this made-it-all-up figment of [Clinton’s] imagination to discredit someone [is concerning.]”
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