Deputy AG Rosenstein Says DOJ Will Look Into Surveillance Of Trump Campaign
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A confrontation between the president and his Justice Department reached into the Oval Office today. The deputy attorney general, the FBI director and the nation's Intelligence chief met with President Trump to discuss his complaints about the Russia probe.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that he would order authorities to investigate tactics that the FBI deployed against his campaign. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been covering the controversy, and she joins us now to talk about it. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: This began with a tweet from the president yesterday. I'm just going to read the tweet. It said, (reading) 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. There the tweet ends. Explain what he's talking about.
JOHNSON: That's a mouthful. The president seems to be referring to newspaper stories over the weekend that three of his campaign aides had contact with an FBI source in the summer of 2016. That source, a former professor, was trying to find out what the Trump aides knew about coordination with Russia. Remember, one foreign policy aide, Carter Page, had been on the FBI radar for years. Another, George Papadopoulos, eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
But these news reports still made the president pretty angry. He claims the FBI had some kind of spy embedded in his campaign. There's no evidence of that. But Republicans in Congress want more information about the source and what he found. And the intelligence community wants to protect him. FBI Director Chris Wray worried about this very thing to lawmakers last week.
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CHRIS WRAY: The day that we can't protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.
SHAPIRO: But, Carrie, even with that warning from the FBI director, it sounds like the Justice Department is trying to respond to the president's criticism. Explain what they're doing.
JOHNSON: Yeah. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asked the Justice inspector general, an independent watchdog, to expand a review he was already doing. The IG's been looking at the surveillance application the FBI got for Carter Page, that foreign policy aide. Now the IG's also looking at whether there was any political motivation in how the FBI reached out to the other campaign aides in 2016. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy AG, said if anyone did infiltrate or surveil people in the presidential campaign for inappropriate reasons, we need to know about it and take action.
The thing is, Ari, these IG investigations can take years. And some of the president's allies in Congress, like Mark Meadows of North Carolina, tweeted this referral to the inspector general is not news. It's a ruse.
SHAPIRO: This is so extraordinary, having an investigation of people in the administration, and then, in effect, an investigation of that investigation. What's the mood like at the Justice Department in the middle of all this?
JOHNSON: Yeah. There's a lot of uncertainty here about whether Rod Rosenstein, who's supervising the Mueller probe, the special counsel investigation, is actually going to keep his job. Rosenstein wouldn't answer questions about that today.
Former DOJ veterans, like the Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, have been tweeting the president's demands are dangerous and not democratic. So it's a bit risky for the DOJ right now.
SHAPIRO: So today's meeting - the White House said it was about discussing how the Justice Department and FBI are complying with requests for documents from Congress. What does that mean?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Republican allies of the president have been demanding internal documents about the Hillary Clinton email probe and about this Russia investigation. The Justice Department and FBI are trying to comply. They've been processing materials, but there are few things where they say they can't budge - things like sources and methods. And those Republicans have threatened Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray with possible impeachment.
Rod Rosenstein says the Justice Department cannot be extorted. But we now know, however, that the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is going to set up a meeting between DOJ and Congress to review classified and other material they've requested. So this fight may not be over yet.
SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thank you.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: And tomorrow morning, Carrie profiles the man who will conduct the IG's review, Michael Horowitz. That's tomorrow on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.