Donald Trump says he will insist on an inquiry into whether his election campaign was infiltrated by the FBI for “political purposes”.
The US President said on Sunday he would “demand” this week that the Justice Department opens an investigation into the orders of officials in the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The demand potentially sets up a showdown with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who have resisted requests from Republican politicians to hand over some documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump’s demand came amid a series of tweets on Sunday denouncing a “witch hunt” that he said had found no collusion with Russia.
Trump tweeted: “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!”
Trump has been promoting a theory circulating in conservative circles about a possible FBI spy on his 2016 campaign, though his attorney has cast doubt on it.
Rudy Giuliani, the attorney representing Trump in the ongoing special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, said in a television interview last week that neither he nor the president knows for certain if there was a spy on the campaign.
Giuliani said they had been told of “some kind of infiltration”.
One senior Democrat scoffed at the claims of a “spy” within the Trump campaign.
Adam Schiff of California, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, termed the assertion “nonsense” in a tweet on Sunday.
In any event, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog is already examining Republican complaints of FBI misconduct in the early stages of the Russia investigation.
The extraordinary presidential request comes in the wake of a bombshell New York Times story about Donald Trump Jr, the president’s eldest son, and his August 2016 meeting with an envoy representing the crown princes of United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The envoy offered to help the Trump presidential campaign, according to the Times - similar to the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr two months earlier under the guise of providing what the Trump campaign believed was damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
FBI agents at the time sent an unnamed informant to talk to two Trump campaign advisers “only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign”, according to the Times.
The government also obtained a secret warrant in October 2016 to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page’s communications after convincing a judge it was appropriate to that investigation.
But Trump, egged on by conservative media outlets and Fox News commentators, lashed out at the FBI, accusing the agency of spying on his campaign for “political purposes”.
One of his lines parrots assertions that Fox News’ Sean Hannity has been making for months.
As Republican politicians have pressed their demand to see Justice Department documents about the identity of the FBI informant, reportedly an American academic who teaches in Britain, critics of the move have warned against the release of such information to Congress - where details of federal investigations often leak.
Having the name become public could put lives at risk, these critics caution.