U.S. President Donald Trump points to the audience after speaking during a prison reform summit in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Demands DOJ Probe `Political' Infiltration of Campaign

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has ordered the Justice Department to probe possible infiltration of his campaign by the Obama administration, after suggesting that a special counsel’s investigation is attempting to hurt Republicans’ prospects in this year’s elections.

“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 said Sunday on Twitter, referring to his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Such a move would mark a dramatic escalation by Trump, who for months has relentlessly criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, following Trump’s tweet, said in a statement 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.”

Sunday Tweetstorm

The agency has asked its inspector general to expand an ongoing review to include whether “any impropriety or political motivation” was a factor in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation related to the Russia probe, spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.

Sally Yates, who served as acting attorney general early in Trump’s administration and was fired after just 10 days in part because she defied his refugee ban, said any move to dismiss Rosenstein would cross a red line as he has authority over Mueller’s investigation. She called Trump’s tweet an "all-out assault on the rule of law."

"One of the things that we have to look out for is the old ‘boiling the frog slowly’ issue. That we become accustomed to things that the president does in directing DOJ," Yates said on MSNBC. "Rod Rosenstein here really controls the scope of the special counsel’s investigation and trying to get rid of him is really a backdoor way of trying to control that investigation."

Trump’s directive came hours after House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a key Congressional ally, said U.S. spy agencies crossed a “red line” if they planted a paid informant inside Trump’s campaign.

Trump Demands DOJ Probe `Political' Infiltration of Campaign

It also follows an separate, early-morning tweetstorm in which Trump reacted angrily to a report that his campaign was offered help by two Middle Eastern countries in the run-up to the 2016 vote. In multiple tweets, the president derided a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt.”

The president was responding to a New York Times report on Saturday that emissaries from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met with members of Trump’s team, including his eldest son, at Trump Tower in New York about three months before the election. They offered to help the billionaire developer win, according to the report.

Witch Hunt

The Times “has done a long & boring story indicating that the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt has found nothing on Russia & me so now they are looking at the rest of the World!” Trump told his 52 million Twitter followers.

“Now that the Witch Hunt has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the World, they should easily be able to take it into the Mid-Term Elections where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party,” he added in another tweet.

It’s illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in U.S. elections. But the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat said the Times report suggests Trump’s campaign had been “clearly receptive” to such offers.

“I don’t understand what the president doesn’t get about the law that says, if you have a foreign nation interfere in an American election, that is illegal,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“If the ‘Times’ story is true, we now have at least a second and maybe a third nation that was trying to lean in to this campaign,” Warner said.

In an interview Sunday on Fox News Channel, Nunes said he and Republican colleagues have yet to determine whether there was an informant because the Justice Department and FBI continue to withhold documents from them.

But the California lawmaker pointed to what he said were “leaks” behind news reports in recent days that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had used an “informant” to get information regarding the Trump campaign early in its counterintelligence investigation of possible ties to Russia.

Happy Anniversary

This week marked the one-year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment to lead a probe into election meddling by Russia. Republicans, led by Trump, are increasingly pressing the argument that the inquiry should be shut down because it was tainted by improper actions well before Mueller was named.

The president and his allies on Capitol Hill have been trying to undercut the probe by exposing the role of a confidential source who helped the FBI. Democrats, including Warner, as well as the Justice Department and intelligence leaders, have warned that identifying the source may put lives in danger.

Warner said Sunday that exposing the source would be illegal.

“If any individual, elected official or otherwise, knowingly reveals a classified piece of information about an FBI source, you are breaking the law and should be fully prosecuted,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Warner said he’d “not seen any evidence” that the FBI planted an informant in Trump’s campaign.

‘Protect the Country’

Representative Adam Schiff, Nunes’s Democrat counterpart on the House Intelligence panel, said he’s “confident” the FBI has acted appropriately.

“Everything I have seen, it would have been negligent for the FBI not to take steps to protect the country in the midst of the information it was receiving,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In a tweet later, Schiff said the president’s “claim of an embedded ‘spy’ is nonsense. His ‘demand’ DOJ investigate something they know to be untrue is an abuse of power, and an effort to distract from his growing legal problems.”

U.S. officials have pushed back against allegations that the Justice Department planted a spy in Trump’s campaign, saying the FBI and CIA gathered intelligence from a number of people as they began their investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

The president earlier this week retweeted a comment by a Fox News anchor that “apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump campaign,” adding, “Really bad stuff!”

Internal Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March appointed John Huber, a U.S. attorney based in Utah, to conduct an internal probe into complaints of FBI bias and wrongdoing.

At the time, the appointment came when congressional Republicans were demanding that the Justice Department appoint a second special counsel to investigate whether the FBI mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and whether FBI agents were biased against Trump.

Sessions said in a letter to lawmakers that he would consider the recommendations Huber might make, including “whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel” later.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.