As the old saying goes, if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table and yell.
Welcome to the central organizing principle of the Trump White House. As the Russia investigation burrows closer to the Oval Office, the president, his staff, his collaborators in Congress and his defenders in the right-wing media are sparing no institution in their quest to undermine it. Look, a mole!
President Trump sank to a new low on Sunday, tweeting, “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!”
Putting aside the cartoonish language (“I hereby demand”? Really?), consider the seriousness of the threat posed by a president ordering federal law enforcement officials to investigate the people who are investigating him.
On Monday, Mr. Trump persuaded the Justice Department to ask its inspector general to look into his accusations, hoping that these countercharges make the public forget the broader context of the Russia investigation. So let’s look at what we already know.
First the facts: There was a sophisticated, multiyear conspiracy by Russian government officials and agents, working under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump. The American law enforcement and intelligence communities warned the Trump campaign and asked it to report anything suspicious. The campaign didn’t do this. To the contrary, at least seven Trump campaign officials met with Russians or people linked to Russia, and several seemed eager to accept their help. As the F.B.I. became aware of these contacts, it began to investigate. And yet the bureau went to great lengths to shield this investigation from becoming public before the election, even as James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, spoke openly about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
These facts aren’t disputed. The intelligence community confirmed Russia’s efforts on Mr. Trump’s behalf in January 2017, and last week Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he saw “no reason to dispute” those findings.
Do these sound like the actions of government officials intent on bringing down a presidential candidate?
What about the law? It is a federal crime to lie to federal authorities, obstruct justice, launder money, fail to register as a foreign agent and conspire with a foreign power to influence the outcome of an election. Top officials in Mr. Trump’s campaign and administration have already been indicted on or pleaded guilty to some of these charges. This is just the start; the special counsel, Robert Mueller, appears to have gathered a great deal more evidence with the help of cooperating witnesses. And we haven’t even talked about Michael Cohen yet.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress compound their shame daily, either by standing by in silence or by working actively with the White House and conservative media to help expose the identity of an F.B.I. informant. Was it just a year ago that these same people professed outrage at the supposed “unmasking” of American citizens caught up in duly-authorized surveillance?
This self-interested assault is doing incalculable damage to the integrity of American law enforcement. It’s up to those people who have devoted their lives to the nation and to the rule of law, like Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray — both Republicans and Trump appointees, don’t forget — to stand up to the president and defend these institutions.
One doesn’t have to agree with the particulars of every investigation to see the fundamental difference here: The members of our law enforcement and intelligence communities are trying to protect the country. Donald Trump and his supporters are simply trying to protect Donald Trump.
A highly anticipated report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog reportedly is expected to hit FBI leaders for moving too slowly to review a batch of Hillary Clinton emails discovered toward the end of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Offering a glimpse at the contents of the closely held inspector general review, The Associated Press cited people familiar with the findings in reporting Monday that the investigation would criticize the bureau for its handling of that incident.
It’s just one piece of the comprehensive report that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has compiled looking into the FBI and DOJ’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The handling of that late-campaign email discovery, though, has long been a key issue for officials on both sides of the aisle.
Clinton has repeatedly blasted then-FBI Director James Comey for notifying Congress that he was revisiting the email probe less than two weeks before the election, claiming that announcement hurt her campaign in the final leg. But Republicans also want to know why the FBI waited weeks to act on those emails, which were discovered on former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop.
Some FBI officials, like then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, knew as early as September 2016 of the emails, but the bureau did not obtain a warrant to review them until the following month.
The IG report, which is examining a broad range of FBI actions during the email investigation, is expected to criticize officials, including Comey, for not moving fast enough to examine the email trove and for a weekslong delay in getting a warrant, sources told the AP.
Clinton supporters say the candidate's name could have been cleared much faster if the FBI acted on the emails as soon as they knew about them. But Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, a Republican, also pressed the DOJ earlier this year for answers on that timeline.
There are suspicions about whether there was an effort to delay pursuing those Clinton files. The Washington Post first reported in January that Horowitz was investigating whether McCabe wanted to avoid taking action on the laptop findings until after the presidential election.
Horowitz announced last week that the draft report was finished in a letter to members of Congress. He did not say when the results of the review will be officially released to the FBI, DOJ and congressional committees.
But the inspector general said he has provided a draft report to the Department and the FBI, and requested that they review it to identify any information that should be protected from disclosure.
“We’re all anxiously awaiting this report,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told Fox News’ “Hannity” last week.
For more than a year, Horowitz has been reviewing the FBI and DOJ’s actions related to its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Horowitz’s investigation has looked at a variety of allegations, including whether it was improper for Comey to make a public announcement about not recommending prosecution over the Clinton email arrangement.
Horowitz’s review has already put McCabe in legal jeopardy. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog sent a criminal referral for McCabe in April to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
That was in response to Horowitz’s finding that McCabe leaked information to the press about the investigation and later lied about it to Comey and federal investigators, prompting Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire him in March.
The report is also expected to criticize two FBI officials who exchanged derogatory text messages about Trump while they worked on the Clinton investigation.
In his book released last month, "A Higher Loyalty," Comey writes that he learned in early October -- probably from McCabe -- that Weiner's laptop might hold a connection to the Clinton email investigation. He said he did not recall the conversation clearly and that it seemed like a "passing comment and the notion that Anthony Weiner's computer might connect to ... Hillary Clinton made no sense to me."
Comey said it wasn't until the morning of Oct. 27 when FBI officials asked his permission to seek a warrant for the Clinton emails, having determined that "hundreds of thousands of emails" from Clinton's personal email domain existed on the computer and that there was no way Weiner would consent to a search of his entire laptop given the legal trouble he was in.
The FBI subsequently obtained a warrant, and though Comey said he was told there was no chance the email review would be done before the election, he announced on Nov. 6 that, "Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton."
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.