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Panel to Review Info on Russia Probe 05/22 06:07
Ratcheting up pressure on the Russia investigation, the White House
announced that top FBI and Justice Department officials have agreed to meet
with congressional leaders and "review" highly classified information the
lawmakers have been seeking on the handling of the probe.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ratcheting up pressure on the Russia investigation, the
White House announced that top FBI and Justice Department officials have agreed
to meet with congressional leaders and "review" highly classified information
the lawmakers have been seeking on the handling of the probe.
The agreement came after President Donald Trump made an extraordinary demand
that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI infiltrated his
presidential campaign. It's unclear exactly what the members will be allowed to
review or if the Justice Department will be providing any documents to Congress.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump chief of staff
John Kelly will broker the meeting between congressional leaders and the FBI,
Justice Department and office of the Director of National Intelligence. She
said the officials will "review highly classified and other information they
have requested," but did not provide additional detail.
During a meeting Monday with Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
and FBI Director Christopher Wray also reiterated an announcement late Sunday
that the Justice Department's inspector general will expand an existing
investigation into the Russia probe by examining whether there was any improper
politically motivated surveillance.
Rep. Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter and head of the House
Intelligence Committee, has been demanding information on an FBI source in the
Russia investigation. And Trump has taken up the cause as the White House tries
to combat the threat posed by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation
into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump tweeted Sunday, "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!"
With the demand, Trump entered into the realm of applying presidential
pressure on the Justice Department regarding an investigation into his own
campaign --- a move few of his predecessors have made.
Trump made the demand amid days of public venting about the special counsel
investigation, which he has deemed a "witch hunt" that he says has yielded no
evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. In response, the Justice
Department moved to defuse the confrontation by asking its watchdog to
investigate whether there was inappropriate surveillance.
"If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign
for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate
action," Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the move.
The Justice Department probe began in March at the request of Attorney
General Jeff Sessions and congressional Republicans. Sessions and the lawmakers
urged Inspector General Michael 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
to justify monitoring Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump.
Horowitz said his office will look at those claims as well as communications
between Steele and Justice and FBI officials.
The back and forth between the Justice Department and Congress began with a
classified subpoena from Nunes in late April. The panel didn't publicize the
subpoena, but the Justice Department released a letter it sent to Nunes
rejecting the request for information "regarding a specific individual." The
department said disclosure could have severe consequences, including potential
loss of human life.
The Justice Department said the White House had signed off on its letter,
but Nunes wasn't satisfied, and continued to pressure the department.
Negotiations between the House Republicans and the Justice department appeared
to stall last week ahead of Trump's tweet --- an apparent reversal of the White
House's initial policy.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House
Intelligence Committee, has called Trump's claim of an embedded spy "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," Schiff
tweeted. "Never mind that DOJ has warned that lives and alliances are at risk.
He doesn't care."
Trump's demand of the Justice Department alarmed many observers, who felt it
not only violated presidential protocol but also could have a chilling effect
on federal law enforcement or its use of informants.
The New York Times was the first to report that the FBI had an informant who
met several times with Trump campaign officials who had suspicious contacts
linked to Russia.
The GOP-led House Intelligence Committee closed its Russian meddling probe
last month, saying it found no evidence of collusion or coordination between
Trump's campaign and Russia. Schiff and other committee Democrats were furious
and argued that Republicans had not subpoenaed many witnessed they considered
essential to the committee's work.
Sunday was not the first time that Trump accused his predecessor of
politically motivated activity against him.
Without substantiation, Trump tweeted in March 2017 that former President
Barack Obama had conducted surveillance the previous October at Trump Tower,
the New York skyscraper where Trump ran his campaign and transition and
maintains a residence. Comey later testified to Congress that internal reviews
found no information to support the president's tweets. Trump fired Comey over
the bureau's Russia investigation.