WASHINGTON — In response to President Trump’s claims that his campaign was spied upon during the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today assured the White House that the allegation would be included among issues examined by the DOJ inspector general.
Trump tweeted Sunday, “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
Some Republicans in Congress have demanded documents related to the investigation that law enforcement and intelligence officials contend could compromise the investigation and put covert sources in danger. At issue is a confidential FBI source who, during the investigation into possible campaign ties to a foreign power, spoke with Trump campaign aide Carter Page, Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in October and has been cooperating with special counsel investigators.
Trump has claimed that the FBI “implanted” a spy inside his campaign, though intelligence officials say that the informant was not working inside the campaign. The source is reportedly an American professor living in the UK who has been an FBI and CIA source for many years.
In May 2016, Papadopoulos told Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London that Russia was offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked party emails; Downer reported this interaction up his chain of command and that tip is believed to have led to the beginning of the FBI investigation into foreign campaign contacts. Federal law forbids foreign assistance in U.S. elections whether solicited, accepted or received.
Trump’s Twitter demand culminated in an hourlong meeting today at the White House — in a meeting that the administration said was planned a week before the tweet — with Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
“Based on the meeting with the president, the Department of Justice has asked the inspector general to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump campaign,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said afterward. “It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
Democratic leaders quickly demanded that such a meeting be bipartisan.
“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said Sunday in a statement released by the Justice Department.
The president has previously railed against Inspector General Michael Horowitz as an “Obama guy.” Horowitz was confirmed during the George W. Bush administration to a six-year term on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. He was sworn in as DOJ inspector general on April 16, 2012.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said today that whether the president cooperates in giving special counsel Robert Mueller an interview could hinge on the release of documents related to the investigation.
Wray told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week that “the day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”
“Human sources in particular who put themselves at great risk to work with us and with our foreign partners have to be able to trust that we’re going to protect their identities and in many cases their lives and the lives of their families,” the FBI director said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has subpoenaed the Justice Department and threatened to hold the DOJ in contempt over his demand for documents related to the FBI’s informant.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) charged in a floor speech today that “Speaker Ryan is not doing his duty when he stands aside and lets Chairman Nunes and his cohorts do what they’re doing” in demanding potential evidence related to an ongoing criminal investigation.
“There is a disturbing trend emerging. Chairman Nunes and the Republicans on the Hill concoct a plan to tear down the chain of command of the Mueller investigation. They feed it to the right-wing press, which churns out innuendo-laden and often factually inaccurate story after story. The president tweets, and the fringe conspiracy theories of far-right Republicans in Congress land themselves on the front pages of mainstream media outlets. All in service of the president’s despicable attempt to distract and deflect from the legitimate probe into Russia’s interference in our elections,” Schumer said.
“Republican, Democrat, Independent – it shouldn’t matter – all Americans should want Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to continue the Russia probe and follow the facts to their conclusion, without interference, and without intimidation.”