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Trump picks a fight with Justice Department, doesn’t get one

FBI Director Robert Mueller, seen here on June

FBI Director Robert Mueller, seen here on June 19, 2013, was the target of a Sunday tweetstorm from President Donald Trump, seen here on Dec. 15, 2017. Credit: Composite photo; AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb


The buildup looked ominous as a Sunday morning tweetstorm of rage about Robert Mueller’s investigation bled into the afternoon. In the eighth tweet, Donald Trump escalated.

“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!”

In short, the president, a subject of Mueller’s inquiries, demanded an investigation of the investigators. Or else — what? A constitutional crisis? A pretext to fire top Justice officials and torpedo Mueller?

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t wait for an official order. His response, issued late Sunday afternoon, boiled down to: Sure, no problem.

Rosenstein just added Trump’s question to an investigation already underway by Justice’s inspector general on the surveillance of Russia-linked former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. If Trump’s campaign was infiltrated or surveilled for political reasons, the public needs to know, he said.

Rosenstein also is the Justice official who appointed Mueller, defends Mueller and has resisted demands by Trump and the president’s allies to unmask the informant. If Trump was itching for a showdown, Rosenstein’s maneuver may have held him off. Unless Trump claims an IG probe isn’t enough.

See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

A taste of the secret source

Trump’s demand followed reports late last week about the informant, described as an American academic teaching in Britain who has worked undercover for the FBI and CIA over the years.

In the Russia case, the informant met with three Trump campaign aides believed to have had suspicious Russian contacts.

Officials told The Washington Post the informant was not a mole inside the campaign. They said his work was part of the early counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That report and another in The New York Times did not name the informant, but the descriptions were detailed enough for others to draw conclusions on his identity.

Clearly besieged, Trump resumed wailing early Monday on Twitter, this time focusing his attacks (more or less) on former CIA  Director John Brennan.

End in Rudy’s sights

The president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told The Associated Press that Mueller recently shared a timetable that suggested that his probe into the president could end by Sept. 1.

But there’s a big if. For Mueller to wrap it up by then and send a report to Congress, Trump would have to sit for an interview in July. Trump hasn’t yet agreed to an interview.

Giuliani said it was important to get Mueller’s investigation over before the midterm elections because “You don’t want another repeat of the 2016 election where you get contrary reports at the end and you don’t know how it affected the election.”

The former New York mayor was alluding to theories that then-FBI Director James Comey swung the election by announcing the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Trump, of course, rejects such doubts and may not be thrilled with Giuliani for bringing them up.

Janison: In Trump we trust?

Amid the grudges and the potential conflicts of interest, there are constant questions about the motives driving Trump decisions, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Late last week, for example, it was reported that Trump personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate charged to Amazon and other firms to ship parcels. She has resisted and argues the Postal Service benefits from the Amazon contract.

Are there legit questions about Amazon’s private deal? Sure. But Trump’s bigfooting also smells of vengeance against Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for what gets published about Trump in The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

Meanwhile, anti-Trumpers noted Trump’s sudden interest in trying to help Chinese telecom giant ZTE wriggle out from U.S. sanctions came right after it was reported that a state-owned Chinese company is backing a development project in Indonesia featuring Trump-branded properties.

Not just Russia

Donald Trump Jr. was told in 2016 meetings that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also were eager to help his father win, The New York Times reported. It’s unclear whether anything came of the offers, but Mueller is investigating, the report said.

The president groused on Twitter: “The World’s most expensive Witch Hunt has found nothing on Russia & me so now they are looking at the rest of the World!”

Trade war timeout

The United States and China are putting “the trade war on hold” after making “meaningful progress” in talks on Trump’s demands to bring down the U.S. trade deficit, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mnuchin declined to say if the decision to wait on tariffs came after a specific commitment from China to reduce the trade imbalance by $200 billion. Last year, the deficit was $376 billion.

Pyongyanging Trump’s chain?

A new chill from North Korea has Trump worried over whether he will be able to pull off his planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un.

Trump spoke late Saturday to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, seeking his take on the North’s shift to a harder-line position last week. North Korea canceled a meeting with South Korean officials and threatened to call off the summit, The Washington Post reported.

National security adviser John Bolton, whose remarks a week ago set off an angry reaction from Pyongyang, has been telling colleagues that he doesn’t trust that the summit will go well, the report said.

What else is happening:

  • Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone — under scrutiny by Mueller in connection with Russian hacks of Democrats — said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he could be indicted on allegations of “some extraneous crime, pertaining to my business or maybe not even pertaining to the 2016 election.”
  • A dentist friend of Trump from Pennsylvania, seeking to practice in Florida, tried to get a state licensing board to approve him on the basis of his relationship with the president even though he failed to submit much of the required paperwork, Politico reported. The board said no.
  • Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said China’s ZTE won’t get off “scot-free” even though Trump wants to restore its access to U.S. suppliers. There will be “big fines, compliance measures, new management, new boards,” Kudlow said on ABC’s “This Week.”
  • Trump is hardly unique in sending out typo-riddled tweets. It’s still a surprise to see the president get his wife’s name wrong as he welcomed her home from a hospital stay. “Melanie” was quickly corrected to “Melania.”
  • In figuring out whether a tweet was written by Trump or an aide such as social media director Dan Scavino, typos are a strong indicator the president did the typing, according to Wired magazine. If there is some level of technological savvy required, such as threading tweets, it’s probably Scavino on the keypad.
  • Speaking Spanish in public can now serve as a reason for authorities to stop you, a citizen learned in Montana. Expect some Trump fans to celebrate.

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