It began, like so many other controversies these days, with a tweet. And it seemed to end Monday in typical fashion — with a stalemate and confusion over President Trump’s intentions.
Fuming over reports that a confidential FBI informant met with three campaign aides, Trump tweeted Sunday that he would demand the Justice Department examine whether investigators improperly “infiltrated or surveilled” his team “for political purposes” during the early stages of the Russia inquiry in 2016.
On Monday, he sat down with Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a meeting with the potential to be a dramatic showdown.
Instead, the White House announced later that the Justice Department’s inspector general would review “any irregularities” with FBI tactics — a review that the Justice Department already had announced the day before in an apparent compromise.
It was unclear whether Trump ever “officially” ordered the inspector general’s internal inquiry, or something more comprehensive, as he had vowed to do in his Sunday tweet.
Even as one head-on collision between the president and his Justice Department appeared to have eased, another loomed over Republican demands for confidential records about the Russia investigation.
The White House said Chief of Staff John Kelly will meet with FBI and Justice Department leaders, senior intelligence agency officials and members of Congress to “review highly classified and other information” that Republican lawmakers have requested.
Rosenstein and Wray have resisted turning over the documents, fearful that it would compromise the criminal investigation being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and has led attempts to obtain the records, did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump and House Republicans have been working to undermine public confidence in the Russia investigation by suggesting that law enforcement has handled the case improperly.
“This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation,” Trump tweeted early Monday, quoting a commentator on “Fox & Friends,” his favorite morning TV show.
The controversy over the informant, said to be a retired U.S. academic and former Justice Department advisor living in England, is only the latest in a series of complaints raised by the president and his allies.
Nunes previously targeted the Justice Department’s decision to include Democratic-funded opposition research in the classified application for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide, before the election. The FBI was investigating Page as a potential Russian agent.
The FBI called the conclusions in the Nunes memo inaccurate. Democrats said that law enforcement did nothing wrong in investigating Page or using the research.