Trump Wants Justice Department To Probe Claims Of FBI Campaign Surveillance

May 20, 2018
Originally published on May 20, 2018 6:49 pm
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DON GONYEA, HOST:

President Trump is again directing harsh words at his own Department of Justice. Tweeting this afternoon, Trump said he would be asking the department to look into whether it and the FBI surveilled his 2016 campaign for, quote, "political reasons." He also wants to know if Obama administration officials were involved in the decision. All of this comes after recent news reports that an FBI asset approached members of Trump's campaign to learn about their contact with the Russians.

Joining us now is NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Don.

GONYEA: Is an order like this something the president can make the Justice Department do?

JOHNSON: Well, he's not supposed to. The Justice Department is supposed to be insulated from presidential or White House pressure when it comes to opening law enforcement investigations. But the Justice Department tonight seems to have taken a step on its own, Don. The deputy attorney general has announced that he's asked the inspector general at Justice to expand a review that's already been going on about surveillance involving Trump's foreign policy adviser during the campaign, Carter Page, to include anyone else who may have been surveilled in connection with the campaign in 2016.

And the Justice Department says that the inspector general can consult with U.S. attorneys if he or she finds anything that's wrong, anything that's criminal. Remember that a couple of U.S. attorneys are already looking at some of these elements, including the U.S. attorney in Utah and the U.S. attorney in Chicago. And Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, said if anyone did infiltrate or surveil people in the presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it, and we need to take some appropriate action.

GONYEA: OK, let's broaden this a bit. Trump's demand comes as his political allies, as his friends have been making a great deal of noise about the existence of this confidential source. What is the political motive around attacking the use of a confidential source?

JOHNSON: Remember; there have been news reports for a few days now that three Trump campaign advisers or aides met with an FBI asset in the course of the campaign. People close to the investigation say that was because the FBI didn't want word to get out that Trump or the Trump campaign was under investigation for possible collusion with Russians in the course of 2016. So as opposed to calling those aides in and interviewing them quite publicly or taking other steps, they sent an informant in to talk to those folks.

Now, this is a counterintelligence investigation, not just a criminal one. And in counterintelligence investigations, the FBI and other government agencies often use these kinds of informants to go in and gather information secretly often to protect the privacy of people who are being investigated. And, Don, these require very high-level approvals at Justice and the FBI. They're not just something one guy can do.

GONYEA: OK. And there's some additional news today from the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about the timetable for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and a possible interview with the president. Just quickly, what do we know there?

JOHNSON: Yeah, Rudy Giuliani says he has heard from the Mueller special counsel team the investigation with respect to the president could wrap up as early as September 1 if the president is interviewed by the special counsel in early to mid-July. Remember, Don; the president has been waffling about whether he's actually going to sit for that interview. So I'd say stay tuned. That's not a done deal yet.

GONYEA: OK, we shall do that. NPR's Carrie Johnson - Carrie, thank you very much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.