The White House denies any inappropriate contact occurred, claims the FBI initiated the conversation and insists Priebus only discussed the news story, not the underlying pending Russia investigation.
The revelation of these conversations raises a decades-old question: Are the White House and FBI permitted to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation?
While no law in the US code prohibits communications between the White House and the Justice Department, guidance issued by the DOJ in 2007 and 2009 explicitly limits communications on pending investigations to avoid any appearance of improper political influence.
“Initial communications between the (Justice) Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the attorney general or the deputy attorney general from the side of the department, and the counsel to the President, the principal deputy counsel to the President, the President, or the vice president from the side of the White House,” reads the 2009 memo.
The memos say the communication should only happen when it is “important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
Former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales under President George W. Bush explained in a CNN interview that “it’s very, very important that you limit contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice,” for two reasons.
“One, you don’t want actual…