President Trump says that, on Monday, he will order an investigation into whether the FBI and the Department of Justice “infiltrated or surveilled” his campaign “for political purposes,” potentially setting up a showdown between the president and his intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
“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, after a string of other tweets denigrating the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.
The White House did not immediately provide guidance on what exactly Trump meant in terms of actions to be taken on Monday. The Department of Justice responded by integrating the president’s request into an investigation that’s already underway within the department, but it’s unclear whether that will satisfy the president.
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is investigating the surveillance practices by the FBI and DOJ related to the Russia investigation. That probe began after Republican lawmakers alleged that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was improperly targeted for surveillance in the early days of the Russia investigation.
After Trump’s tweets on Sunday, the Justice Department formally asked the inspector general to expand its review to include tactics used against Trump campaign aides and advisers.
“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Trump’s tweet came towards the end of a weekend that was dominated with talk about confidential sources. Reports emerged on Friday that a man who met with Trump campaign aides on multiple occasions in 2016 was an FBI informant.
Trump has grown frustrated with the Justice Department for refusing to turn over to congressional Republicans documents related to the informant. But intelligence officials say turning over the documents would put the source at risk, according to The Washington Post.
In addition on Sunday, Trump continued to attack the credibility of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian election interference, calling the probe “the world’s most expensive witch hunt.”
The president’s outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told NPR that Mueller’s office has told the president’s legal team that the part of the investigation involving the president—both the question of obstruction and collusion—would conclude by Sept. 1 if the much-debated interview with Trump takes place by mid-July.
On Sunday, legal experts wondered how the Trump-appointed heads of the FBI and DOJ would respond to his demand for an investigation into the probe looking at his campaign if the Justice Department’s accommodation ends up not being enough.
Benjamin Wittes, a senior governance fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, posted a tweet that called Trump’s move “a nakedly corrupt attempt” to derail the investigation and predicted that forcing a probe would prompt both Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign.