Press outlets are reporting that White House officials have confirmed on Friday that Reince Priebus, the president’s chief of staff, had spoken with the FBI’s top two officials about rebutting press reports of an investigation into contacts between representatives of the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Guardian has reported the White House statement as follows (which is matched by the Financial Times in wording)

According to the White House, McCabe told Priebus there was nothing to the New York Times’ report, using a colorful phrase. Priebus asked: “What can we do about this?” McCabe gave no answer, and told the White House chief of staff he would get back to Priebus on the issue.

Priebus told McCabe the White House was “getting crushed” over the depth of Trump’s ties to Russia, as reported in the New York Times, and asked: “What am I supposed to do?”

Some time later, senior administration officials told reporters, McCabe called Priebus and said: “We’d love to help but we can’t get into the position of making statements on every story.”

Priebus then asked if he could cite anonymous senior intelligence officials in rebutting the Times article, to which McCabe agreed.

Afterward, FBI director James Comey called Priebus and echoed McCabe’s comments. While the story was baseless, Comey declined to issue an FBI statement saying so publicly, according to senior officials.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that;

Under policies followed by both Republican and Democratic administrations, White House political appointees such as Mr Priebus are prohibited from discussing with the DoJ or FBI officials “pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations”. Communications are authorised only between the White House counsel and the attorney-general or deputy attorney-general, according to a 2009 memo from then attorney-general Eric Holder. 

Within US politics, what is the legal weight of the 2009 memo from Eric Holder and what potential action could Priebus face if the statement is confirmed and investigated?

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    Memos don't actually carry legal weight, it's just for administrative manager. if you want to claim any law was broken you'd have to cite any actual law. Feb 26, 2017 at 1:47
  • I haven't claimed anything. Check your bias. I asked a question. Your comment is better suited as an answer. Feb 26, 2017 at 1:53
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    I don't know what you are taking about honestly. Your question implies priebus may have broken law because of this memo. I'm giving a quick explication as why it is not the case because I'm on my phone and it's not convenient to write a full answer Feb 26, 2017 at 1:59
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    How can a question imply anything when the first five words are "Has Preibus committed a crime"? Feb 26, 2017 at 2:55
  • Within the same sentence you talk about the memo. It is very reasonable, required even, to address that. If you don't want people to account for the memo you should remove all mention of it, certainly within the actual question. Perhaps reduce it down to the first five words if those are the only relevant ones to you.
    – Eric Nolan
    Dec 10, 2018 at 11:23

3 Answers 3


It violated norms more than rules.

With current publicly available information, it remains unclear if Priebus has "committed a crime". Basically, every administration can set their own rules regarding communications between the White House and the DOJ.

Also, memorandums are not legal binding as it only "manage and govern the actions, practices, and policies of the various departments".

As quoted from this article by Politico, it's unclear if the Trump administration has maintained the rules or modified it.

For decades, presidents from both parties have prohibited White House staff from discussing specific investigations and enforcement cases without clearance from the White House counsel.

It’s not clear if the Trump White House has maintained, revoked or replaced the rules. Aides to former President Barack Obama handed off copies of the policy as a model for the Trump White House during the transition, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

(emphasis mine)


The question was whether Mr. Priebus had violated any law by discussing “pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations”. Since the discussion was brought up by Mr. McCabe who informed Mr. Priebus that the unsourced stories were "garbage" and had nothing to do with any “pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations”, no law or policy, or procedure was involved.

As you added to the question, according to news reports, Mr. Priebus was taken aside by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and told about the alleged stories and that they were "garbage". He then asked Mr. McCabe what he should do about the stories. Mr. McCabe told him that he would look into it and see what could be done. When Mr. Priebus called him, he said that there was nothing to be done.

The leakers then used this to pretend that the administration had called on the FBI to denounce the story and been rebuffed. They spun the headline to make it sound as if the FBI had refused to do anything because the stories were legitimate and truthful without actually saying so explicitly.

While Rush Limbaugh went into detail about this, many people would refuse to believe anything that he says. Thus, instead of quoting him, I will cite NBC.com on the same matter.

Trump Aide Reince Priebus Asked FBI to Knock Down Russia Stories

On Friday, senior administration officials told reporters in a background briefing that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe first raised the stories with Priebus, pulling him aside during an early morning meeting on Feb. 15 at the White House to tell him that the New York Times report was "garbage."

According to an anonymous senior administration official, Priebus responded to the FBI's McCabe: "Okay, what am I supposed to do?" and "How do we fix this?"

According to a White House official, McCabe then talked to other officials at the FBI and determined there was nothing the FBI could do. FBI officials said they didn't want to get into the business of publicly parsing elements of news reports.

A senior law enforcement official would neither confirm nor dispute this account Friday, saying it wasn't clear which side first brought up the stories, and that there were other contacts between the White House and the FBI on the matter.

The administration officials said Priebus asked if he could say that the story had been knocked down by top intelligence officials. FBI said he could, according to the senior administration officials.

  • Do you have a citation for that? I won't downvote right away but it's just conjecture at present. Feb 26, 2017 at 2:56
  • My comment was 25 mins ago. You added citations a few mins ago. They weren't there originally. Feb 26, 2017 at 3:22
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    The account you cite from NBC uses Preibus as a source, which doesn't make it all that solid in this case.
    – rougon
    Feb 26, 2017 at 3:23
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    What have you posted is not the transcript of events attributed to the White House. Feb 26, 2017 at 3:28
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    @Venture2099 The question was whether or not Mr. Preibus violated the law by "breaching the 2009 memo" involving speaking to the FBI about pending cases. The stories cited stated that Mr. McCabe of the FBI brought up the situation, that the stories were "garbage" and that this had nothing to do with any “pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations”.. I will try to make that clearer. Feb 26, 2017 at 3:48

No crime has been committed by the White House.

  • An Eric Holder memo would only apply to employees of the DoJ, not to White House employees
  • It might * be argued that a DoJ employee violated the policy contained in the memo **

*The status and force of the Holder memo today is unknown

**There is a great jump from violating a policy to committing crime. Usually, violating policy is a violation of administrative law, not criminal law.

  • 1
    If the memo is laying out an explanation of applicable laws and giving advice on following the law, then this boundary between following the law and attending to the points of the memo does not exist. Often policies are followed to prevent people from falling afoul of the law. Oct 31, 2017 at 16:06

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