DOJ, Trump strike murky deal in FBI informant spat
Under pressure from President Donald Trump, top Justice Department officials have agreed to share highly classified information with congressional leaders connected to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The decision to share the information came after Trump met at the White House with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray and asked them to turn over to Congress and his own legal team all of the memos they have about an FBI informant who made contact with his 2016 campaign.
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The White House also acknowledged that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz would review allegations by Trump allies that the president’s campaign was inappropriately surveilled in 2016, though Democrats and Justice Department defenders have called the allegations cynical attempts to undermine the ongoing probe of Trump campaign contacts with Russians. DOJ announced the new investigation on Sunday, and the White House affirmed it in a statement Monday afternoon.
“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 in a statement after the meeting.
Sanders added that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will confer with national security leaders and Congress “to review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
The breadth of the agreement was not immediately clear. The Justice Department had previously indicated that sharing details about its informant could risk lives and endanger national security. It’s also unclear who will be permitted to view the documents. The Justice Department typically shares its most sensitive information with the so-called “Gang of Eight” — the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the Republican and Democratic leaders of each chamber’s Intelligence Committee.
On his way back into Justice Department headquarters, Rosenstein declined answer questions about the meeting.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the documents requested by Trump will “indicate what the informant found.” He also said the memos “should be made available to us on a confidential basis,” he added. “We should be at least allowed to read them so we know this exculpatory evidence is being preserved.” It’s unclear if there were any arrangements made for the White House to view the documents.
Trump’s lawyers also want to interview the FBI officials who made the decision to connect the informant with the campaign.
“It’s the FBI who has the onus for having invaded the campaign,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani predicted the Justice Department would place redactions on some parts of the material.
“But as long as they turn over the vast majority of it it gives you a real sense” of what the FBI was doing. “The question is what are the justifications for it? Did the justifications continue? Did they pick up anything valuable? That’s the most important thing to do. We think they didn’t.”
It’s unclear whether Rosenstein and Wray agreed to any disclosures that would breach long-standing DOJ precedent against revealing information about secret sources and ongoing investigations.
Justice Department officials have previously argued that such a disclosure to lawmakers would endanger national security and risk lives.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill demanding the information have rejected that contention and accused Justice officials of stonewalling. The confrontation was, until Trump’s involvement, defused after calls between the White House, DOJ officials and top lawmakers. On Sunday demanded that the Justice Department look into whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled” his campaign for political reasons.
“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!” the president wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s call for an investigation was met with eager support from some factions on Capitol Hill.
“This is the right call from @realDonaldTrump–we’ve seen disturbing evidence that the FBI engaged in political targeting,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who had led the congressional calls to investigate DOJ over the Russia probe. “But the DOJ can’t be trusted to investigate themselves–Congress needs the documents too. Rod Rosenstein: where are the documents? Show Americans the truth.”
A group of 16 GOP lawmakers also prepared Monday to roll out a resolution to condemn FBI and DOJ officials for that they claim to be “misconduct” at the highest levels of the agencies.