WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that the FBI's use of a confidential source to seek information from his campaign aides was gaining steam as a scandal and that lawmakers would soon realize that "a lot of bad things happened."
In a series of morning tweets, and later speaking to reporters, Trump assailed what he called "spygate," claiming that it could become "one of the biggest political scandals in history!"
The comments were Trump's latest salvo over reports that the FBI used a confidential source in its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
There is no evidence to suggest that the source was inserted into the Trump campaign, as the president has suggested, but the source did seek out and meet Trump campaign advisers.
On Twitter, Trump suggested that the tables had turned on those investigating his campaign over possible collusion with Russia, writing: "What goes around, comes around!"
The president referred to those investigating him as the "Criminal Deep State," claiming they had been "caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before!"
As he departed the White House early Wednesday afternoon en route to an event in New York, Trump told reporters: "I hope it's not true, but it looks like it is."
The FBI source, longtime Republican and former University of Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, had contact with at least three advisers to Trump during the campaign. Trump and his allies have sought to cast that as inappropriate political spying.
In his tweets, Trump also quoted Andrew Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge and frequent Fox News commentator, saying that "it's clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump campaign." Napolitano appeared on Fox & Friends earlier Wednesday morning.
Trump and his aides have derisively used the term "deep state" to refer to long-serving, unelected officials who they claim are out to undermine his presidency.
During a television appearance Tuesday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. said the FBI never spied on the Trump campaign.
"They were not. They were spying -- a term I don't particularly like -- on what the Russians were doing," Clapper said during an appearance on ABCs The View to promote a new book.
The FBI, Clapper said, was simply trying to answer the question, "Were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence?"
In a later tweet Wednesday morning, Trump took issue with Clapper's assessment that the then-GOP nominee should have been grateful for the FBI's surveillance.
"No, James R. Clapper Jr., I am not happy," Trump wrote. "Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!"
'BAD THINGS HAPPENED'
The use of the confidential source has been at the fore of Trump and conservative lawmakers' feud with the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during the campaign.
On Tuesday, the White House said two Republican lawmakers will be allowed to review classified information about the FBI source during a meeting today with intelligence officials. The Justice Department had resisted sharing information, saying it jeopardized the source.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump said he expects "total transparency" from Justice Department officials. "What I want is I want total transparency," he said. "You have to have transparency."
Trump said lawmakers will probably be troubled once they see documents regarding the use of the source.
"When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happened," Trump said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina were the only two Republican lawmakers invited to today's meeting. Administration officials attending include FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed O'Callaghan.
After Democratic complaints and negotiations that went into the late evening Wednesday, the White House said it would also give a second briefing to a group of lawmakers known as the "Gang of Eight" immediately after the briefing for the two House Republicans. The "Gang of Eight" is composed of the top Republicans and Democrats in each chamber and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees.
According to the Justice Department, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were also added to the roster after not being included on the original list.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier Wednesday that he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., planned to send a letter to Wray and Rosenstein requesting that they reconsider meeting with the two GOP lawmakers. If a meeting takes place, Schumer said, it should include a broader, bipartisan group of lawmakers.
On the Republican side, a trio of senators had asked the White House to also be allowed to attend the meeting.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas made the request in a letter dated Tuesday to Rosenstein and Kelly.
Grassley has been spearheading his committee's investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 campaign. Graham and Cornyn are also members of the Judiciary Committee.
Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, originally demanded the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation.
Former FBI Director James Comey stood up for the bureau against Trump's claims Wednesday, saying in a tweet: "Facts matter. The FBI's use of Confidential Human Sources (the actual term) is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?"
Later in the day, though, Trump said it was Comey who lied. And the president said his efforts to learn more about the informant were not undercutting the work of the Justice Department.
"We're cleaning everything up," Trump said, speaking to reporters before he boarded Marine One on his way to Joint Base Andrews. "What I'm doing is a service to this country."
He said he did the country a service when he fired Comey, as well.
"If you look at the lies, the tremendous lies, if you look at all that's going on, I think James Comey's got a lot of problems," Trump said.
The Russia probe apparently remained on Trump's mind a couple of hours after his initial tweets Wednesday.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. Central time, he fired off a two-word message in all capital letters: "WITCH HUNT!"
Also Wednesday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani switched gears, saying he would prefer the president grant an interview to Mueller's office and that a decision would be made within "the next couple weeks."
"I guess I'd rather do the interview. It gets it over with it, it makes my client happy," he said. "The safe course you hear every lawyer say is don't do the interview, and that's easy to say in the abstract. That's much harder when you have a client who is the president of the United States and wants to be interviewed."
Giuliani had expressed skepticism in recent days about an interview with the special counsel's team, telling the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that his decision would be no if a decision had to be made immediately.
"If they said, you have to do it now, the answer would have to be no," Giuliani told the Journal.
In Wednesday morning's interview with The Washington Post, he said the president sometimes seesaws on whether he wants to do an interview.
"There have been a few days where he says, 'Maybe you guys are right,'" Giuliani said, referring to his lawyers who have warned against an interview. "Then he goes right back to, 'Why shouldn't I?'"
Giuliani said he was concerned that the president would become a target or that the interview would be a perjury trap because the "truth is relative." The president's legal team continues to try to set limitations on an interview, including the duration and questions posed, he said.
"They may have a different version of the truth than we do," Giuliani said.
Many of Trump's advisers have expressed concern that he would be accused of committing perjury in an interview.
The former New York mayor said he was handling much of the public-facing role for Trump's legal team, while Jane and Martin Raskin -- two new Florida lawyers on the team -- are reviewing facts and interacting with Mueller's office.
Giuliani also said new White House lawyer Emmet Flood was preparing a series of memos explaining how the office could fight a subpoena to testify or to challenge any intent to indict the president.
Information for this article was contributed by John Wagner, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; by Eileen Sullivan of The New York Times; and by Mary Clare Jalonick, Jonathan Lemire, Anne Flaherty, Chad Day, Desmond Butler, Jill Colvin, Eric Tucker and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press.
A Section on 05/24/2018
Print Headline: Campaign spy puts FBI in snare, Trump insists