DOJ seeks probe of FBI in 2016 campaign after Trump 'spy' claim
Following demands by President Donald Trump for the Justice Department to investigate his claim that his campaign had been "infiltrated or surveilled" for "political purposes," the agency on Monday ordered an expansion of the review of any potential FISA abuse in the Russia probe.
"The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election," Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.
"As always, the Inspector General will consult with the appropriate U.S. Attorney if there is any evidence of potential criminal conduct," she added.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight over special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 race, added 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."
The Justice Department's internal watchdog is already examining Republican complaints of FBI misconduct in the early stages of the Russia investigation.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced an investigation in March at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and congressional Republicans. Sessions and the lawmakers had urged Horowitz to review whether FBI and Justice Department officials abused their surveillance powers by using information compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, and paid for by Democrats as part of the basis to justify monitoring Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump.
The Justice Department's latest announcement came after Trump on Sunday demanded an investigation.
The Times, citing current and former FBI officials, reported that the informant talked to Page and Papadopoulos because they had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. Papadopoulos was charged last year in Mueller's investigation and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Trump had been tweeting similar allegations for days. On Friday, he accused the Department of Justice of putting a "spy" inside his presidential campaign as part of an effort to frame him for crimes he says he "didn't commit."
"'Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn't commit,'" Trump tweeted Friday, quoting Fox Business Network anchor David Asman. "Really bad stuff!"
Later, the president weighed in again, saying that if the reports are true, it would be the "all time biggest political scandal."
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's lawyers, said on Friday that the president's legal team had been told about an informant "off the record," but added that he didn't know if the information was correct.
A day earlier — on the anniversary of the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller — Trump had tweeted that then-President Barack Obama had "spied on the Trump campaign," an apparent reference to an allegation by Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney, made Thursday on Fox News.