White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that top U.S. intelligence officials have told him that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign did not collude with Russia -- attempting to end widespread new reports about potentially compromising, illegal talks with the former Cold War enemy.
“I can assure you, the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that [the allegation] is not only grossly overstated, but also wrong,” Priebus told “Fox News Sunday.” “They have made it very clear that the story is complete garbage.”
However, his statement is unlikely to end the controversy, amid bipartisan calls on Capitol Hill to hold investigative hearings on the matter.
New stories about a potential Trump-Russia connection began to surface during the 2016 campaign when Trump lauded Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forceful governing style.
And they appeared to reach a peak following reports that retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, before he officially became Trump’s national security adviser, spoke with a Russian official about U.S. sanctions, which led last week to Flynn’s forced resignation.
In a freewheeling press conference Thursday, the president repeatedly said he had no knowledge of campaign officials talking to Russian officials.
Priebus attempted Sunday to close the matter but declined to name his contacts within the intelligence community, which raised questions about him using the same kind of anonymous sources for a story that the administration opposes.
He also said officials within the intelligence community -- which includes the CIA and FBI -- have dismissed reports that they have denied Trump intelligence reports, fearing a national security breach.
Priebus defended Trump’s tweet in which he called the fake news media the “enemy of the American people.”
“I understand where he is coming from,” he said. “There are certain things that are happening in the news that just aren’t honest. We aren’t talking about everyone. … There is nothing wrong with background. We need to communicate with reporters and give context.”