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Trump Demanded a Probe of Possible Campaign ‘Infiltration.’ The Justice Department Responded—Carefully

May 21, 2018, 10:10 AM UTC
President Trump Iran Deal
President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at the White House on May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The Department of Justice plans to comply—at least in part—with President Trump’s “demand” that it investigate whether the Obama administration or others infiltrated his campaign for political purposes.

Hours after Trump announced this demand on Twitter on Sunday, the Justice Department reportedly asked its inspector general to expand its review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application process, looking into Trump’s concerns.

The investigation will seek to understand whether the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was politically motivated in any way, according to a statement from Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores reported by CNN.

The original investigation, announced in late March, was spurred by claims from some House Republicans that the FBI had manipulated the Steele dossier to obtain a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign associate, Carter Page. The investigation focused on whether the FBI abused FISA when it obtained the warrant.

Following Trump’s public, but as yet unproven, accusations in recent days that an FBI informant had been embedded in his campaign for political purposes, the scope of the investigation will be widened to address these allegations.

Trump’s overt pressure on the Justice Department does not have much legal precedent, according to legal experts. Some have suggested that Trump sowing tension with Justice could prompt a situation not dissimilar to that during the Watergate scandal under President Nixon, in which a number of officials resigned rather than carry out the president’s orders.

It is unclear at this time what the outcome of the inspector general’s investigation will be. For now, Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general and the individual responsible for overseeing the Russian investigation, has stated that “if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.” Nevertheless, by handing the investigation over to the inspector general, Rosenstein may be hoping to assuage Trump’s concerns, without “fully bowing to his demands,” suggests The New York Times.