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Legal and political implications of President Trump’s request for DOJ to investigate FBI surveillance of his campaign

President Trump speaks during a security briefing at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
President Trump speaks during a security briefing at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
Nicholas Kamm /AFP/Getty Images

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President Trump fired another shot at the Department of Justice and its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Sunday, when he took to his preferred 240 character medium to announce that he would be formally requesting the DOJ look into the possibility that the FBI spied on his 2016 presidential campaign for political purposes.

The tweet appeared to be in response to reports that an FBI informant had reached out to several Trump campaign aides during the campaign, though the New York Times reports the FBI informant contacted two campaign aides after the agency was made aware of evidence that they were in contact with individuals linked to Russia.

The Department of Justice has referred the matter to its inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement that that the DOJ needs to know and respond appropriately if any inappropriate surveillance did take place. The president’s request is yet another escalation in the battle between the president and his Justice Department

How far does the president’s authority extend in terms of what he can direct the Justice Department to do in terms of its investigation? How does the Justice Department proceed from here? Is there precedent for this kind of request?


Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times reporter based in Washington, D.C. where he reports on the special counsel investigation; he tweets @ChrisMegerian

Michael German, fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice Liberty and National Security Program; he was a special agent with the FBI, 1988-2004

Laurie L. Levenson, former federal prosecutor and a professor of law at Loyola Law School