President Trump urged the Justice Department to allow an FBI informant to testify before Congress about Russian efforts to enter the U.S. energy market during the Obama administration, a senior White House advisor confirmed Friday.
Trump supported the request of Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who last week asked the Justice Department to lift the undercover informant's gag order.
By getting involved, however, the president seems to have ignored long-standing restrictions put in place after the Watergate-era abuses of the Nixon years to limit White House involvement in criminal law enforcement matters. Earlier he was criticized for intervening in DOJ matters for firing FBI Director James B. Comey in May over the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The White House was unapologetic.
"It is not unusual for a president to weigh in," Trump's senior advisor, Kellyanne Conway, said on CNN on Friday, refuting numerous legal analysts who say otherwise.
"He believes — and many others do — frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows," Conway said.
Despite investigations that found no wrongdoing, Trump has repeatedly pointed to the Obama administration's approval of the 2010 sale of U.S. uranium mines to a company backed by the Russian government as an example of Hillary Clinton's helping the Russians.
The sale of the Canada-based Uranium One to Russian energy company Rosatom was approved while Clinton led the State Department. Some investors in Uranium One, which owns uranium mines in the United States, had donated to her husband's global philanthropic foundation.
So far, there is no publicly available evidence that Clinton was aware of Russian efforts, or that the FBI investigation uncovered any wrongdoing related to the deal. The State Department was one of nine U.S. departments or agencies that approved the sale, a permitting process required by law for sales with possible national security implications.
In addition, U.S. uranium deposits are difficult to refine and investors think Russia was more interested in Uranium One's large uranium mines in nearby Kazakhstan.
Trump and his allies in Congress, along with his confidant Sean Hannity of Fox News, have renewed attacks on the 7-year-old uranium deal to blunt attention to investigations by four congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference the 2016 election and whether Moscow had any direct links to the Trump campaign.
Mueller also is believed to be investigating whether Trump may have tried to obstruct justice, including by his firing of Comey.
Grassley, who is known for encouraging whistleblowers to go public with information, asked the Justice Department to lift the informant's nondisclosure agreement so he could tell the committee what he knows about potential money laundering and other activities related to the Uranium One deal.
Justice agreed this week. The department declined to comment on whether Trump influenced its decision. It is unclear who the informant is or what evidence, if any, the informant has that might link the Clintons to the sale.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) said his panel and the House Oversight Committee would launch an investigation into the Uranium One deal.
Trump has called the uranium deal "the real Russia story" and a scandal like "Watergate, modern age." He wrote on Twitter on Friday: "It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!" — meaning Hillary Clinton.