May 17 marked one year since the FBI special counsel took the reins on the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. On Sunday, May 20, President Donald Trump tweeted about alleged campaign surveillance tapes, demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) follow up on his claims that the FBI acted improperly in carrying out its investigation in the early days during the campaign. Hours later, the DOJ confirmed it would look into the matter by expanding an existing probe. Elite Daily reached out to the DOJ for comment on the probe.
Per an email from the DOJ, spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said Sunday, "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."
Trump is claiming that the FBI improperly investigated his campaign back in 2016. Now, he's calling for an investigation into the investigation.
FBI Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who has himself been a suggested target of Trump's — signaled that the agency would expand its probe of the issue, according to the DOJ. (The DOJ already has a probe looking into possible overstepping by the FBI in pursuing the Russia investigation.)
"If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action," said Rosenstein in a statement obtained by Elite Daily. The announcement to expand the probe came on Sunday following a series of tweets by Trump over the weekend regarding the investigation into Russian connections with his campaign.
"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," tweeted Trump on Sunday, "and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!"
The DOJ, in its response to Elite Daily, did not comment on whether the "review" constituted an active investigation, or whether the decision to expand it was in response to the president's tweets.
In a tweet from May 18, Trump said he believed that an FBI mole may have been planted in his campaign. The DOJ did not comment on Trump's claim in its response to Elite Daily.
The existing probe began in March to look specifically at the agency's obtaining of a warrant to surveil Carter Page, an associate in the Trump campaign.
Rosenstein's statement Sunday, and the larger decision to follow up on the president's demand with agency action, seems to suggest a change of tone from what Rosenstein himself said earlier this month when others had tried to strong-arm him into action.
"I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted," Rosenstein said after a cohort of GOP lawmakers was threatening to impeach him , per The Washington Post. "We're going to do what's required by the rule of law, and any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job."
It's not clear what the expanded probe will mean for the president or for the Russian investigation, which is going into its second year under new leadership after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. In the year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been leading the investigation, he's made one power-play after another, casting a net far beyond Russian connections to probe deep into the president's web of influence. His investigation so far has led to 22 indictments — four of which are former Trump campaign members — and counting.
While it's not clear that the DOJ expanded its probe because of public pressure from the president, Trump's call for more action alone has been a cause for concern to many. "The president's statement indicating that he will order the Justice Department to investigate the FBI could not be more disturbing and reiterates his deep contempt for the rule of law," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, in a Twitter thread Sunday. She went on to say that any agency actions — investigation or not — should be independent of the president, stressing, "The Justice Department is not arm of the White House."
"No level of appeasement of Trump will ever be enough," wrote The Post's Greg Sargent on Twitter. "Even if the DOJ's inspector general finds that the handling of the Russia probe during the campaign was entirely legitimate, Trump and his allies will simply scream, 'cover up.'" Sargent added in a second tweet that if the president goes so far as to mandate a full investigation of the Russia investigation, heads might start to roll.
Others pointed out that the president had no apparent evidence in making his claims over Twitter, but pressed ahead with demanding an investigation regardless — and got what he wanted. "The system is failing," wrote MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller.
Over the weekend, a report by The New York Times also revealed that the Trump campaign's foreign ties reportedly weren't limited to Russia, but extended to the Gulf states as well. "The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia - so now they're looking at the rest of the World. Oh great!" tweeted Trump on Sunday.
The revelation signaled a broader pattern of foreign governments seeking influence in Trump's political future — news which clearly provoked another Twitter response from the president.
Should the expanded probe reveal any wrongdoing, the IG — essentially the agency watchdog — would "consult with the appropriate U.S. attorney," Isgur said per The Hill.