Tuesday, May 22, 2018

DOJ To Investigate the Investigators

Amid allegations of misbehavior by the FBI in the investigation of several members of Donald Trump’s campaign staff in 2016, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to investigate the investigators. The new probe will look into whether FBI agents responding to reports that Trump staffers were attempting to work with Russian agents in 2016 acted inappropriately themselves.

“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,” a DOJ spokesman said in a statement.

The announcement of the FBI probe comes a day after President Trump demanded in a tweet that the DOJ “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes [sic].” The president also charged the DOJ with investigating whether members of the Obama Administration made “any such demands or requests.”

The president’s demand follows on news over the weekend that a retired American college professor with deep ties to US and British intelligence was an FBI informant that corroborated other reports about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that it had identified the informant, but was not publishing his name. President Trump accused the FBI of planting an “FBI representative” in his campaign for “political purposes,” but the Post notes that there is no evidence that the informant was planted by the FBI.

The informant was subsequently identified by the New York Post as Stefan Halper, a retired Cambridge professor who previously worked for the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations. Halper reportedly met with Carter Page in July 2016. Page had previously been the subject of a FISA surveillance warrant as early as 2014.  In August, Halper met with Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis and contacted George Papadopoulos by email.

Supporters of the president charge that the FBI investigation of members of the Trump campaign was politically motivated, but there are several problems with this theory. The first is that Page and Manafort first attracted the attention of counterintelligence agencies long before they joined Team Trump. Second, even though the investigation into the Trump dossier and other Russian contacts by the Trump camp was underway well before the election, the allegations of a Trump-Russia conspiracy were not made public prior to the election, when they would have done the most harm to the Trump campaign. Instead, the Comey memo to Congress on October 28 alleged possible wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton and arguably cost her the election. These facts do not fit the narrative of an attempt by the FBI to sink the Trump campaign.

The Trump Administration’s criticism of the FBI hinges on the assumption that the investigation was political rather than a legitimate counterintelligence probe. So far, there seems to be no evidence to support that claim. If the FBI judged that the reports of an attempt to conspire with the Russians were credible, they would not have been doing their job if they had not launched an investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, told NBC News, “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 accusations that the FBI broke the law in investigating members of the Trump campaign are serious and need to be treated as such. President Trump has used the FBI and DOJ as a foil for his frustrations with the ongoing Mueller investigation and accusations that his administration conspired with Putin to throw the election. The president’s claims need to be investigated to avoid undermining public faith in the agency and the government at large.

Given Mr. Trump’s track record of dubious claims, however, he is unlikely to be satisfied with the results. The core problem is that Donald Trump hired campaign staffers who were compromised by the Russians. The president’s own son met with a Russian lawyer because he thought she had information that would damage the Clinton campaign. It is difficult to look at the allegations about Trump’s staffers and say that the FBI should have done nothing.

Originally Posted on The Resurgent

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