President Donald Trump says he will order an investigation Monday into claims an FBI informant infiltrated his 2016 election campaign – setting up a potential showdown with the Justice Department.
“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!,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
Later Sunday, the Justice Department announced it has asked the inspector general to expand its current review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ACT (FISA) “application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.
“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
Within minutes of the president’s tweets, former members of the Obama administration and others reacted with alarm. They believe the Trump threat is potentially the most serious intervention into the U.S. judicial system since the president fired FBI Director James Comey while he was investigating Trump’s campaign.
Trump on Saturday complained that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department infiltrated his campaign by using an informant who made contact with three campaign associates before passing on information to the FBI.
Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge who had worked in three other Republican administrations.
‘Crossing a massive red line’
Ned Price, who served on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama tells VOA that Trump’s charge is dangerous to American democracy. Price says the president is “officially knocking down the firewall between policy and law enforcement – an indispensable element of the rule of law. And he’s doing so for his own personal ends.”
Former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted, “This is crossing a massive red line. Trump is forcing DOJ to conduct a politicized investigation – something he himself conceded he shouldn’t do.”
It is not clear whether Trump will ask for a general investigation or specifically call on the Justice Department to make public certain materials about the FBI’s counterintelligence process or the identity of sources.
There is “no doubt” Trump has the authority to make the demand, said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in U.S. national security law.
Wittes also predicts Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray will not comply with Trump’s order.
“This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the President to derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed,” tweeted Wittes.
Trump further complained Sunday about the yearlong investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia and if he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.
“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump complained in one the Twitter remarks, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt.”
He contended investigators have “found no Collussion (sic) with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump said the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller “has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the world” and its connections to the Trump campaign.
Trump said Mueller, “should easily be able” to extend the inquiries into the congressional elections in November where he and his team “can put some hurt on the Republican Party.”
He added, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.”
One of Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, told several news organizations Sunday that Mueller told him the probe will end by September 1.
He echoed Trump’s concerns that an extended investigation could hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.
There has been no comment from Mueller’s office.
Giuliani also said the two sides were still negotiating whether Trump will be interviewed as part of the investigation.
Mueller has already indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election through the creation of fake news stories commenting on contentious American issues. He has also secured guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.