The White House told the Justice Department not to hold off on announcing the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers until after President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to sources familiar with the decision.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters Friday that the President was “fully aware” of the department’s actions, but the details surrounding the timing of last week’s indictment, first reported by Bloomberg, illustrate the high-wire act for top Justice Department officials in the midst of an investigation Trump has called a “disaster.”
Justice Department officials were mindful of Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin so Rosenstein briefed Trump on July 9 about the forthcoming indictment before the President left on his European trip, the sources said. The timing of the indictment was discussed, but no decisions were made at the meeting.
After consultations between Trump and top White House officials, the White House later told Justice not to hold off in announcing the indictment, according to the sources.
Rosenstein made the announcement Friday after the grand jury returned the indictment, briefly touching on why the President had been told in advance.
“It was important for the President to know what information we’ve uncovered because he’s got to make very important decisions for the country, so he needs to understand what evidence we have of foreign election interference,” Rosenstein said.
Less than a week later, the President’s understanding of that evidence has been severely tested, as the White House tries to contain the damage from his widely condemned news conference Monday with Putin.
On Tuesday, Trump said that while he accepted the “intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddling in the 2016 election took place,” it could “have been other people also. Lots of other people out there.”
The Justice Department has not commented on Trump’s recent remarks.