Sunday 22 September 2019

Congressional leaders to hold meeting with investigators over Russia probe

President Donald Trump has requested that the Justice Department investigates whether the FBI infiltrated his campaign.

President Donald Trump speaking in the White House (Susan Walsh/AP)
President Donald Trump speaking in the White House (Susan Walsh/AP)

By Desmond Butler and Chad Day

Top FBI and Justice Department officials have agreed to meet with congressional leaders and “review” highly classified information the politicians have been seeking as they scrutinise the handling of the Russia investigation, the White House has said.

The agreement came after President Donald Trump made an extraordinary demand that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI infiltrated his presidential campaign.

It is unclear exactly what the members will be allowed to review or if the Justice Department will be providing any documents to Congress.

President Donald Trump making a speech in front of the Capitol (Evan Vucci/AP)

White House spokeswoman 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 high classified and other information they have requested”, but did not provide any additional detail.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves a meeting at the White House (Evan Vucci/AP)

During a meeting with Mr Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray also reiterated an announcement late on 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.

Representative 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.

The move on Monday comes 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.

Mr Trump tweeted on 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!”

If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action Rod Rosenstein

Mr Trump’s demand for a new inquiry moved beyond his usual blustery accusations of institutional wrongdoing and into the realm of applying presidential pressure on the Justice Department, a move few of his predecessors have made.

Mr Trump made the order 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 on Sunday to defuse a growing confrontation with the White House by asking its watchdog to investigate whether there was inappropriate surveillance.

FBI director Christopher Wray, right, leaves the White House on Monday (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Rosenstein released a statement on Sunday saying: “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 probe began in March at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and congressional Republicans.

Mr Sessions and the politicians 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 Mr Trump.

Mr Horowitz said his office will look at those claims as well as communications between Mr Steele and Justice and FBI officials.

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