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US to examine Trump’s allegation his campaign was under surveillance

Trump had earlier said he will "demand" that the justice department open an investigation into whether the FBI infiltrated his presidential campaign.

world Updated: May 21, 2018 23:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Justice Department,FBI
In this Thursday, May 17, 2018, file photo, US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington.(AP)

The US department of justice has ordered an internal examination to determine if there was any “impropriety or political motivation” in FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.

An FBI informant was in touch with some members of Trump’s campaign ahead of the 2016 election about their contacts with Russians as part of an operation that has since grown into an investigation of alleged Russian meddling in polls being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump and his allies have called the investigation a “witch-hunt” and have sought to discredit it as politically motivated.

“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 tweeted on Sunday.

Shortly after the tweet, the department of justice announced it had asked its inspector general, an internal but autonomous investigator, to expand an ongoing review to “include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election”.

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who is directly overseeing the Russia probe, said in a separate statement: “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

The informant has been described as a retired professor who had worked for three Republican administrations. He has been identified by some US media outlets but others have not, at the request of American intelligence officers who argue the disclosure could hamper other investigations. He is reported to have worked for both the FBI and CIA.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, was one of those contacted by the informant. He became the first person to be indicted by Mueller and has since pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russians and has been cooperating with the probe in a plea deal.

Carter Page and Sam Clovis were the other members of the Trump campaign who had been contacted by the informant. Page has been on the FBI’s radar since 2013, when Russians reportedly first tried to recruit him. Clovis has said through his lawyer that he met the informant just once, and the discussion had centred around China.

The department of justice inspector general will examine the informant’s role as part of its ongoing review of the FBI’s requests to a secretive court — under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — for permission to wiretap Page during the initial stages of investigation of Russian meddling.

Republican lawmakers have alleged the FBI’s wiretap requests were based chiefly on information from a controversial dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, who had been paid for the work by the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

Trump fully endorses that view and first addressed it in a string of tweets in March 2017, in which he alleged the Obama administration had ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower, his business and campaign headquarters.

First Published: May 21, 2018 10:35 IST