Speculation FBI infiltrated camp stirs up Trump; if factual, president tweets, it’s ‘bigger than Watergate’

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump speaks Thursday during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Oval Office. Earlier, Trump tweeted his frustration with “the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt” as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation enters its second year.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump sought to lend credence Thursday to reports that FBI informants had infiltrated his presidential campaign, saying that "if so, this is bigger than Watergate!"

Trump made the comment on the anniversary of Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel to head the Justice Department investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump campaign officials. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a "witch hunt."

"Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI [the following was in all capital letters] 'spied on the Trump campaign with an embedded informant,'" Trump tweeted, referring to former President Barack Obama. "Andrew McCarthy says, 'There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.' If so, this is bigger than Watergate!"

McCarthy, a Republican former federal prosecutor and a contributing editor at the National Review, wrote an article published last week headlined "Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?"

McCarthy also appeared on Fox & Friends, the Fox News Channel morning show that Trump regularly watches, shortly before the president's tweet speculating about FBI informants inside Trump's campaign.

The New York Times reported separately this week that at least one government informant met several times with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both former foreign policy advisers on Trump's Republican campaign. The newspaper attributed the information to current and former FBI officials.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said if the reports are proved true, "it should certainly be looked into."

The Watergate scandal in the early 1970s occurred after a break-in by five men at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington and subsequent attempts by the administration of President Richard Nixon to hide its involvement. Nixon, a Republican, ultimately resigned from office as a result of the ensuing investigation.

In the year since Mueller was appointed special counsel, Trump has considered firing Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein -- actions that also have drawn parallels to the Watergate investigation, in which Nixon ordered his attorney general and deputy attorney general to fire the special prosecutor investigating abuses in the 1972 presidential election. Both Justice Department officials resigned rather than carrying out Nixon's order.

The president's allies Thursday seized on the FBI informant reports.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, speaking Thursday on Fox and Friends, said he was "shocked to hear that they put a spy in the campaign of a major-party candidate, maybe two spies."

The former New York mayor added: "We're going to have to look into whether we can challenge the legitimacy of the entire investigation. Maybe a special counsel, special prosecutor, never should have been appointed."

Kellyanne Conway, Trump's 2016 campaign manager who now is a White House adviser, also appeared on Fox & Friends on Thursday and said, "It looks like the Trump campaign may have been surveilled."

Still, Giuliani said, the president wants to testify in the Russia probe -- but he will do so only if "we feel there's a way to shorten this thing." He added that Trump remains eager to offer his "side of the case."

GIULIANI WEIGHS IN

Giuliani has been urging Mueller's team to wrap up the investigation now that the probe has reached the one-year mark.

Giuliani's team has been weighing whether to allow Trump to sit for an interview with Mueller. He said the legal team is "pretty comfortable, in the circumstances of this case, that they wouldn't be able to subpoena him personally."

While the Supreme Court has never definitively ruled on the subject, it appears that a sitting president could be forced to testify. In 1974, justices held unanimously that a president could be compelled to comply with a subpoena for tapes and documents.

If Trump were subpoenaed and did not want to testify, he could invoke his constitutional right not to testify against himself and decline to answer questions. But that act would pose significant political risk.

Giuliani on Thursday also repeated that Mueller's team has indicated it would not attempt to indict Trump. Justice Department legal opinions from 1973 and 2000 have suggested that a sitting president is immune from indictment and that criminal charges would undermine the commander in chief's ability to do the job.

On Wednesday, Giuliani told Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham that Mueller "has all the facts to make a decision."

"Mueller should now bring this to a close," Giuliani said. "It's been a year. He's gotten 1.4 million documents, he's interviewed 28 witnesses. And he has nothing, which is why he wants to bring the president into an interview."

So far, the special counsel's office has charged 19 people -- including four Trump campaign advisers -- and three Russian companies. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, have pleaded guilty and are now cooperating in the probe.

On Thursday, reports surfaced that the former son-in-law of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was talking with Mueller's team.

Jeffrey Yohai has been so busy with the investigation that he's been unable to keep up with his other legal issues, according to a court filing and a lawyer involved in a civil lawsuit against him.

The confirmation of his involvement with Mueller's ongoing investigation comes as he has been caught up in another investigation in New York and has reportedly cut a plea deal with federal prosecutors in California. The developments could add pressure to Manafort, who suffered a setback in his legal defense earlier this week after a judge denied his motion to dismiss charges filed against him.

The two criminal cases filed against Manafort by the special counsel's office accuse him of bank fraud, tax evasion, acting as an unregistered foreign agent and false statements related to his political work in Ukraine as well as loans he took out to purchase U.S. properties.

Manafort has pleaded innocent and denied any wrongdoing.

Trump on Thursday continued to pan the special counsel's investigation as a "Witch Hunt" intended to discredit his presidency.

In a second morning tweet, Trump said: "Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History ... and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!"

And in a third tweet, Trump said, "Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history -- by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and 'Haters,' but that's the way it is!"

Mueller, for his part, hasn't uttered one word in public about his Russia investigation in the year since he was appointed special counsel.

With lawmakers eyeing midterm elections and Trump publicly mulling over whether he will sit for an interview with Mueller, Republican calls are growing for the special counsel to end his investigation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has steadfastly supported the special counsel, seemed to change his tone a bit Thursday.

"I think he should be free to do his job, but I would like to see it get wrapped up, of course," Ryan said of Mueller. "I mean we want to see this thing come to its conclusion, but again I've always said he should be free to finish his job."

Information for this article was contributed by Darlene Superville, Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco, Andrew Taylor and Jake Pearson of The Associated Press; by Philip Rucker of The Washington Post; and by Eileen Sullivan of The New York Times.

In a photo from Wednesday, May 9, 2012, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller appears before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A Section on 05/18/2018