WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSMiami/CNN) – After reports surfaced that President Donald Trump wanted the gag order lifted on an undercover informant who played a critical role in an FBI investigation into an Obama-era uranium deal with Russia, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway confirmed the news Friday.
“He believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows,” Conway said on CNN’s “New Day.”
One of the two sources familiar with the President’s actions said the President directed his senior staff “to facilitate the Justice Department’s full cooperation with Congress to lift the gag order.” The sources said White House counsel Don McGahn then relayed the message to the Justice Department.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, publicly called on the Justice Department last week to lift the nondisclosure agreement preventing the informant from speaking to Congress.
One of the sources said that “when Grassley expressed interest in having (the informant) as a witness, the President wanted to ensure he could.”
Conway, in the interview, pointed to Grassley’s request.
“That’s the proper channel here,” Conway said.
The Justice Department has strict rules limiting the White House’s involvement in criminal law enforcement matters. Any involvement by the White House counsel in the decision is unusual, particularly because it relates to the President’s political opponents.
Conway, however, defended Trump’s interest in the politically charged case: “It’s not unusual for a President to weigh in.”
One source said that the President has expressed “consistent frustration” about reports that the Justice Department and the FBI have been “dragging their heels” in response to pending requests for release of information on this and other matters. That source said the President made the decision in a desire to be “transparent” and said it’s not about attacking the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton.
Fox News first reported the President wanted the gag order lifted.
The White House referred inquiries on the informant to the Justice Department. The Justice Department declined to comment. A source familiar with the matter said the decision, which was announced Wednesday, was made independently by the Justice Department.
Republicans want to know the circumstances surrounding the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia’s Atomic Energy Agency, Rosatom, which was approved by the Obama administration in 2010.
The deal had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a panel that is composed of representatives from several US government agencies, including the State Department, which at the time was led by Clinton.
Lawmakers raised new questions in light of reporting by The Hill that while the uranium deal was being reviewed and approved, the FBI was in the beginning stages of a racketeering and extortion investigation into a US subsidiary of Rosatom.
On Tuesday, the House intelligence committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, announced his panel would also be looking into the matter in a joint investigation with the House oversight committee.
“I think the uranium sale to Russia, in the way it was done, so underhanded with tremendous amounts of money being passed, I actually think that is Watergate, modern age,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)