What are the ramifications of Trump’s FBI spy claims?
President Trump met with top Justice Department officials after demanding on Sunday that they investigate whether the FBI infiltrated his 2016 campaign. Last week, the Washington Post reported that a longtime U.S. intelligence source had contacts with several of Trump's advisors. Amna Nawaz learns more from Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post.
As we reported earlier, the Justice Department has asked its internal watchdog to review President Trump's charge that the FBI spied on Mr. Trump's 2016 election campaign.
The move followed the president's announcement on Twitter that he would — quote — "demand" the department look into the matter. Sunday, in a series of six tweets in the course of an hour, the president targeted special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, calling it — quote — "the most" — sorry — "the world's most expensive witch-hunt."
These developments came in the wake of last week's Washington Post report that a longtime U.S. intelligence source had contacts with several of Mr. Trump's advisers during the 2016 campaign.
Devlin Barrett covers the Justice Department for The Post, and joins me now.
Devlin, thanks so much for your time.
Let me ask you now, as the basis of that demand, the president basically said that there was a spy implanted in his campaign. Tell me about that. Based on your reporting, is that what you believe happened?
I don't think that's a fair characterization at all of the person we are reporting on, which is the FBI source, an American professor who had several meetings, meetings that, to be clear, the source himself initiated.
But they were meetings. They were what intelligence officials might refer to as brush-ups, where you arrange a meeting with someone. But I don't think it's actually accurate to characterize that type of work as a spy or embedding them with the campaign.
So, let me ask you about the chain of events here now.
The president makes a demand on Twitter. The deputy attorney general responds, asking the inspector general, basically the watchdog, to take this on. What do you make about that chain of command, the chain of events there?
Well, there are certainly people who are worried that you're basically setting a pattern of the president demanding things from the Justice Department, and the Justice Department giving him something.
But I think it's still worth keeping in mind that the central thing that is sort of a red line for law enforcement officials, which is the turning over of classified documents to Congress, that really hasn't — that line hasn't been crossed yet. We may still reach that point, but I think, in a way, this is a lesser confrontation, a lesser conflict, this question of an I.G. investigation, than the issue of the source of the classified documents to the Hill.
And we know that the president met today at the White House with the deputy attorney general and also the FBI director, Chris Wray.
What do we know happened at that meeting?
Well, initial word is that they had a meeting and basically agreed to have another meeting.
So it may be that, as has happened before, the Justice Department essentially plays for time, says they want to keep talking about it, but don't actually turn over paperwork to lawmakers on the Hill, who have been demanding that paperwork.
The Justice Department's argument is that that would be too dangerous for the source and for their operations. It's not clear that today's meeting actually resolved very much, but, obviously, now the president is more directly involved, and that could raise the stakes.
Well, talk to me about raising the stakes now very quickly before we let you go.
We know the president's lashed out at the Justice Department before. If history's a guide, he could do it again. Could we be here with tensions rising again sometime soon?
I think what you have seen in the last, let's say, three weeks has been a steady escalation of this issue. But, at the same time, you know, the president could have issued an order saying turn over those documents right now. He could have done that three weeks ago. And he still hasn't.
So I don't think we should assume that this will keep escalating. But I also think we have watched it escalate, so we have to keep close tabs on it.
Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post, thanks for your time.
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