The White House press secretary did not directly dispute the revelation that Blackwater founder Erik Prince and former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North pitched a plan to develop a private spy network to members of the Trump administration.
The plan, detailed in a story broken by The Intercept on Monday, is to develop a private intelligence network to counter perceived “deep state” enemies within government ranks. Prince denied the report, and North did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
“I’m not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in response to a question from CBS News’s Major Garrett about the story.
Garrett followed up to ask if President Donald Trump “would be opposed” to an outside spy network operating on his behalf. Sanders said she was unaware.
Garrett asked to Sanders to confirm whether any administration official had been briefed on such a network.
“I’m not going to answer some random hypothetical. Did some random person off the street come in and say something? I don’t know,” Sanders said.
And finally, Garrett asked if it was an idea Trump would consider.
“Again, I haven’t asked him, but it’s not something that’s currently in the works,” Sanders replied.
Watch the exchange below:
A White House official later told New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman that the proposal was indeed pitched to the Trump administration, but there is no sign the president himself was briefed. A White House official also confirmed to CNN that the plan was pitched, adding that “this idea is going nowhere.”
Got clarification on this from a WH official, who says administration was pitched but no sign Trump was briefed https://t.co/m7PNNVP6rW
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 5, 2017
Democrats on Capitol Hill swiftly condemned the plan.
“I read the report and if that report is accurate, that would be exceptionally troubling,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told The Intercept when asked about the story.
“The first thing that comes to mind is, how’s something like that can even be legal?” Wyden added, noting that he would continue to look into the issue.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., also decried the proposal.
“This is an Orwellian scenario of government action that is not accountable to either the law or the voters. It contradicts the very principle of limited, popular government that defines our nation,” Khanna told The Intercept in a statement. “Congress must ask CIA Director [Mike] Pompeo directly about any such effort and get answers.”
Update: Dec. 6, 2017, 9:05 a.m.
This story was updated to indicate that CNN also obtained confirmation that the plan was pitched to the White House.