After tangling with reporters for the past few months about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer set out new guidelines on Wednesday, telling news organizations that questions about the matter would no longer be entertained at the daily news briefing.
“We are focused on the President’s agenda,” Spicer said.
“Going forward, all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel Mark Kasowitz,” Spicer added, in a very short gaggle with reporters in the White House Briefing Room.
It was the first public confirmation that the President had officially sought private legal counsel, though Kasowitz is no stranger to reporters and the President.
Kasowitz had been spotted by reporters at the White House on Sunday with Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
In recent news stories, Kasowitz was described as a “bare-knuckled litigator” and a “fierce defender” of Mr. Trump.
Meanwhile, as the White House refused to answer questions, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections continued, with new subpoenas out today from the House Intelligence Committee.
That panel asked for documents from both former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
The panel also reportedly sent subpoenas to several U.S. Intelligence agencies, asking for information about “unmasking” of U.S. citizens during any investigation related to Russian meddling – but those were reportedly only authorized by the GOP Chairman of the committee, not jointly with Democrats.
Democrats were also alarmed by a report in the Washington Post, which said the Trump Administration might return two diplomatic properties to Russia, which had been shut down by the Obama Administration, in retaliation for Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“Why reward them?” asked Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
“These compounds were used by Russian spies,” said Colin Kohl, a former top White House aide to President Obama. “This concession to the Kremlin by Trump is unbelievable.”
The story emerged soon after a tweet from the Russian Embassy in Washington, which linked to a Russian news story that threatened Russian retaliation over the December sanctions from the Obama Administration – unless the Trump White House moved to reverse those sanctions
At issue are two diplomatic compounds – one in Maryland, one in New York – that have been used for many years by the Russians. The facility in Maryland is widely believed to be an eavesdropping location for Russian intelligence.
Those properties were caught up in sanctions that were levied on December 29, 2016 by President Obama, and were reportedly the subject of phone calls that day between the Russian Ambassador, and Michael Flynn – contacts that ultimately led to Flynn’s firing in February.
In a tweet last week, the Russian Embassy had all but threatened the Trump Administration, saying if those properties weren’t returned, “we will have to take counter measures.”