On Monday, President Donald Trump summoned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to the Oval Office and demanded to see documents related to the ongoing investigation of his own campaign.
At issue is the FBI’s use of an informant who communicated with members of the Trump campaign team. Trump has inaccurately described the man, who has been widely reported as Cambridge professor Stefan Halper — a highly regarded veteran of previous Republican administrations — as a “spy.”
“Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.” David Asman @LouDobbs @GreggJarrett Really bad stuff!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
The issue of Halper’s role as an informant has lately been pushed by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, who has consistently worked in tandem with the White House in a broad effort to undermine the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Nunes previously issued a subpoena demanding classified information pertaining to the investigation, including Halper’s identity, from the Department of Justice.
Typically, the president does not interfere with individual investigations conducted by the Department of Justice, the idea being that the Department of Justice should be allowed to impartially apply the law and not get mixed up in the political prerogatives of the chief executive. In this case, Trump appears to be interfering with an investigation that involves, among other things, his own conduct, raising questions about whether or not this constitutes a profound breach of ethics.
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, made a game attempt to present this Oval Office meeting as legitimate by claiming that Trump called it “in his official capacity as president.” Reached for comment by USA Today, Giuliani insisted that Trump merely “wants to make sure that the relevant members of Congress get a chance to see what they are entitled to see.”
In a separate interview, however, Giuliani made the exact opposite point.
Giuliani told HuffPost that Trump needed the information about the informant before deciding whether to agree to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. “We can’t let our guy go in and be questioned without knowing this,” he said.
In other words, according to Giuliani, Trump convened the meeting to gain a strategic advantage in his personal negotiations with the special counsel. Access to information held by investigators is something that would benefit any person of interest in a criminal probe. But in nearly all circumstances it is unavailable unless the person is formally charged. In this case, Trump is attempting to use the powers of the presidency to demand the information.
Moreover, Giuliani isn’t even pretending that Congress would be the sole recipient of this information. Rather, as his personal attorney, Giuliani is admitting Trump called the meeting to better inform his strategy.
So far it appears to be working. In a statement released yesterday after the meeting, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced he would allow members of Congress to “review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
It is unclear whether Rosenstein will hand over all the documents that Nunes requested or if he has something else in mind.