President Donald Trump met Monday with top Justice Department officials about the use of a confidential informant in the initial probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and afterward the White House endorsed the department’s previous decision to refer the matter to its inspector general.
After Mr. Trump’s meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and others, the White House said the inspector general would probe “any irregularities” in the department’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
The officials also agreed that White House chief of staff John Kelly would meet with leaders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department, as well as top lawmakers, to review classified information related to the Russia investigation.
The announcements followed a tweet from Mr. Trump Sunday saying he would “officially” demand on Monday that the Justice Department 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 with the Obama Administration.”
The president has claimed in recent days that investigators may have “implanted” a spy in his campaign for political reasons, but he has provided no evidence of that. The Justice Department used a suspected informant to probe whether Trump campaign aides were making improper contacts with Russia in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter.
Monday’s meeting avoided, or at least postponed, a confrontation between the White House and GOP congressional leaders on the one hand, and the Justice Department on the other, over divulging information related to the informant. GOP lawmakers say they need the information to conduct oversight, but Justice Department officials say disclosing such data would threaten the safety of their informants.
Several Trump allies said Monday that an investigation by the inspector general, the department’s in-house watchdog, wasn’t sufficient. Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) said Mr. Rosenstein shouldn’t need such an investigation to know what happened with the informant and whether it was appropriate.
Victoria Toensing, an unofficial legal adviser to Mr. Trump who is representing one of his former campaign aides, said in an interview that Mr. Rosenstein’s move “is kicking the can down the road, and it’s been kicked down the road over a year. Now it’s time to work.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the inspector general.
Democrats on Monday criticized Mr. Trump’s demand that the Justice Department probe be subject to investigation.
“The White House plan to arrange a meeting where ‘highly classified and other information’ will be shared with members of Congress is highly irregular and inappropriate. The president and his staff should not be involved in the viewing or dissemination of sensitive investigatory information involving any open investigation, let alone one about his own activities and campaign,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) in a statement on Monday.
The dispute centers on a man who approached at least two Trump campaign aides at the Justice Department’s behest as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Your browser does not support HTML5 video.
0:00 / 0:00
When it comes to the Russia investigation, the word "Collusion" gets thrown around a lot. But there’s not a lot of clarity on what it actually means. Is it illegal? Is it grounds for impeachment? We asked a law professor to explain. Photo Illustration: Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Trump and his allies seized on reports of those encounters as evidence that the initial Russia probe in 2016, which was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last year, was motivated by political animus toward the president.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) and other senior congressional Republicans have demanded that Justice Department and intelligence officials turn over sensitive information about the informant, edging closer to a collision with the Justice Department.
Mr. Nunes, a Trump ally, has threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t supply information about the individual, and Mr. Trump has sided with Mr. Nunes, saying Congress should get the material.
As recently as last week, Mr. Kelly told Mr. Rosenstein that he should comply with the request unless he had “a really good reason” for withholding the documents, a White House official said Monday.
But the Justice Department held back, fueling the president’s anger and setting the stage for the meeting at the White House on Monday with Messrs. Rosenstein, Wray and others.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), who co-signed a letter to Mr. Trump last week asking him to order the Justice Department to release the records, said in a recent interview, “We’re a separate and equal branch of government and entitled to get information to do our constitutional oversight and get answers.”
Ms. Toensing said Mr. Rosenstein should appoint another special counsel to investigate the allegations or ask a U.S. attorney to take on the task.
Mr. Sessions last year tapped Utah’s federal prosecutor to look into an array of Republican grievances, including those involving the department’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
The attorney general has recused himself from the Russia probe because of his prominent role in the Trump campaign, leaving his deputy Mr. Rosenstein to oversee Mr. Mueller’s investigation and putting both men in the president’s crosshairs.
They have survived in part by accommodating at least some of the demands of Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans, but a former official familiar with the department’s thinking said that revealing classified information about a confidential human source would likely be a red line Mr. Rosenstein and others would not cross.
Write to Peter Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Appeared in the May 22, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump, Justice Aides Meet on Russia Probe.’