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The order immediately caused confusion and protests at airports

The issue came in a closed-door House Republican meeting Tuesday

Washington CNN —  

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is defending his staffers who worked with President Donald Trump’s transition team on the controversial travel ban executive order.

Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte said his staffers were discussing immigration policies with Trump officials during the transition period. In a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, he said that their involvement ended January 20 and was on volunteer basis, according to a source in the meeting.

Goodlatte later released a statement Tuesday saying that while he supported the order and his staff working with the transition, they were not decision-makers on its contents.

“My staff on the House Judiciary Committee are some of the best on Capitol Hill. They are experts in their respective fields and I proudly allowed them to provide their expertise to the Trump transition team on immigration law,” Goodlatte said. “To be clear, while they gave advice to the new administration, they did not have decision making authority on the policy. The final decision was made at the highest levels of the Trump Administration, and I support the President’s executive order. My staff had no control of the language contained in the President’s executive order, the timing of the announcement, the rollout and subsequent implementation, and the coordination with Congress.”

Multiple sources confirmed to CNN before Goodlatte’s statement that Judiciary staffers had aided the transition and worked on the order, but that the chairman was not aware of the content of their work with the administration.

The executive order signed by Trump on Friday that barred entry to the US to individuals originating from seven countries of concern for terrorism.

The order immediately caused confusion and protests at airports as even legal permanent residents of the US, who held green cards, were detained and denied entry at ports of entry. The result sparked public outcry and global protests before the administration made clear it would not enforce the order against green card holders, after initially saying it would, and there would be other case-by-case exceptions.

Politico was first to report that staffers worked on the order without their boss knowing, adding that sources said the staffers had to sign non-disclosure agreements to work with the transition.

The issue of non disclosure agreements did not come up in the discussion Tuesday, according to the source.

House Speaker Paul Ryan brushed off the report in a Tuesday news conference.

“Congressional staffers help the administration all the time,” he said, before directing further questions to Goodlatte.

The White House did not respond to request for a comment on whether the staffers’ work on the transition was what it was referring to when it said it had been working with the Hill in advance on the order.

According to a source in the room, at Tuesday morning’s closed-door House GOP conference meeting, Texas Rep. Bill Flores asked how staff members of the House Judiciary committee worked on the travel ban executive order without looping in leadership.

Republicans on the Hill have largely been critical of the executive order, supporting the idea but saying the execution was a failing of the administration.

It is not uncommon for party staff to volunteer for the transition, and many do similar leaves to work on events like the Republican National Convention.

During the transition, multiple sources told CNN the transition was furious with leaks, and clamped down on staff to ensure information about what was being worked on would not get out.