Battle Over DOJ, FBI, Mueller Investigation Escalates After Trump, Brennan Tweets
It's a war of words between President Donald Trump and former CIA Director under President Barack Obama John Brennan, and it's happening mostly on Twitter.
The fight centers around Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation of alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign to influence the 2016 Presidential Election, specifically whether or not United States intelligence and law enforcement agencies were used to politically target Trump by the Obama Administration.
Trump fired back against Brennan early Monday morning, responding to a veiled threat the former intelligence chief tweeted out to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Sunday afternoon.
Brennan was likely responding to Trump's earlier tweet calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate itself after leaks to the New York Times and Washington Post revealed that the FBI and/or the DOJ under Obama used an FBI informant to spy on the Trump Campaign in the Summer of 2016. Reports indicate that the informant, 73-year-old Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor and long-time Republican policy analyst who has reportedly worked covertly to help influence elections in the past, contacted Trump Campaign worker George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos was reportedly one of the first people the FBI investigated, using Halper to contact him and extract information from him. Travel records show that the bureau had D.C.-based agents working in London within hours of opening the investigation, which was given the code name of Crossfire Hurricane.
The revelation of Crossfire Hurricane and the FBI's use of Halper to infiltrate a campaign raised lots of criticism and attacks, especially from the Commander-In-Chief, who tweeted out that he would direct the DOJ to investigate the FBI and its own actions during the campaign to find out if Crossfire Hurricane was directed by any members of the Obama Administration.
Sunday night, the DOJ indicated that the agency's Inspector General had begun an internal investigation of the alleged improper surveillance.
Crossfire Hurricane reportedly started with Papadopoulos when an Australian diplomat made contact with the U.S. government in May after Papadopoulos told him that he was shopping dirt on Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, to her political rivals during a night of heavy drinking .
Conservative North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows says recent history shows that the DOJ cannot be trusted to investigate itself, pointing to its refusal to turn over documents on the Mueller investigation.
Democrats fought back against the allegations on Sunday and Monday morning. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says there's no way the FBI targeted the Trump Campaign politically.
Schiff talked to NBC's "Meet The Press", saying, "this claim by the president, the suggestion by [Rudolph W.] Giuliani that there is a political spy embedded in the Trump campaign, is nonsense." However, Schiff did not point to any specific evidence that no targeting occurred, instead saying that the allegations hurt U.S. intelligence operations. "You hear it in the same terms that Trump often speaks," he said, "which is ‘people are saying,’ or ‘I’m hearing,’ or ‘We’re being told.’ That’s another way of saying, ‘This is patently untrue, but we would like to spread it anyway.’ And it’s singularly destructive of our institutions, but then that’s the point.”
Schiff's Republican counterpart on the Committee, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes says that the DOJ's refusal to share much of any information about the investigation, including how many informants targeted the Trump Campaign, that Congress is mostly in the dark.
Nunes also questioned the timing of leaks to the Times and Post about Halper, saying they came out right after he and South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy backed out of a meeting with DOJ officials because they would not provide any more documents. Nunes told the Washington Times that he thinks they were planning to set him up and blame the leaks on him.
Other Democrats claimed that the president does not have authority over the U.S. Department of Justice. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and former Vice-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee called Trump's demand to investigate "disturbing" and shows "his deep contempt for the law".
Mark Levin, a Constitutional attorney who was Attorney General Edwin Meese's Chief of Staff during the Reagan Administration has been an open and aggressive critic of the Mueller investigation. Levin has called Crossfire Hurricane a "cabal of FBI agents" who took it upon themselves to investigate a presidential campaign.
Levin says the interference in the 2016 election that did the most damage was not by Russians, but by the U.S. intelligence community. On FOX News Thursday, he said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions must investigate Brennan and former DNI James Clapper for their possible involvement in the operation. "I don't care what Jeff Sessions does. He[Trump]'s the president and tell him, I want you to investigate the activities that took place in this election, let the chips fall where they may. The interference in this election by the FBI, the CIA, the national intelligence...I want to know what Brennan did, I want to know what Clapper did," he said.
As for the investigation itself, there were still no signs that any evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump Campaign has been found. Former Trump Advisor Roger Stone told "Meet The Press" that he has no doubt that Mueller will come up with a crime against him that has nothing to do with the investigation.
On CNN Sunday, Anchor Jake Tapper pressed Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner for evidence of collusion. Warner pointed at a meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr and a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Clinton, saying that it shows a pattern by the Trump Campaign.
“Still, as far as the public knows,” Tapper said, “no evidence of anybody in the Trump team accepting the offers of help, no evidence of actual conspiracy that we know of yet, that we in the public know of yet. And you’re not willing to comment on whether or not you’ve seen evidence of that conspiracy.”
If the investigation is determined to have been a political hit job by members of the Obama Administration, Brennan would be one of the top people who would be held accountable. Tom Fitton with Judicial Watch says the former CIA Director could face serious legal implications if that happens.
Investigative reporter Sara Carter, who has followed the story before Mueller was appointed and any investigation began, tweeted that Brennan and others' push back against Trump over calling for the DOJ to investigate its own members is a "true danger to our democracy". Carter asked why Trump's opponents' are "so concerned" and "afraid", and pointed to "continued veiled threats" and "disinformation".
Meanwhile, the continuing investigation and the Mueller team's tactics are starting to get more scrutiny and more criticism. Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis recently called Mueller out in court, saying his team is more interested in taking down President Trump than prosecuting any crimes, and is seeking "unfettered power" to do so. “We don’t want anyone with unfettered power,” Ellis said.
The exchange happened at a hearing in a federal court in Virginia earlier this month, when Judge Ellis pressed for some of those documents Congressman Nunes and other Republicans in Congress have tried unsuccessfully to get from the DOJ, a so-called "scope memo" written by FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein. The scope memo outlines what areas the Mueller team are able to investigate. Mueller and his team claim that Rosenstein granted them broad authority to investigate.
Mueller’s team told Judge Ellis that some powers outlined in the scope memo are actually secret because they involve ongoing investigations and national security matters that cannot be publicly disclosed. Judge Ellis seemed amused and not persuaded during the hearing, referencing the common exclamation from NFL announcers and saying: "C'mon man!"
Court records show that Ellis received the memo under seal on Thursday. Thursday also marked the one year anniversary of Mueller being appointed special counsel to investigate Russian collusion in the 2016 Presidential Election.