Updated at 12:11 p.m.
President Trump intensified his attack on federal law enforcement Wednesday as he sought to strengthen his case that the FBI’s investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia actually amounted to unlawful political snooping.
Trump alluded to press reports about the total value of work done for the U.S. government by the man identified as the confidential informant in the case. Cambridge professor Stefan Halper had a contract with the Defense Department and also worked with the U.S. intelligence community, according to the accounts.
For Trump, the $1 million in payments must have meant a long-term surveillance program.
“If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal” Trump wrote.
If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2018
Halper is described as having met with people in Trump’s campaign in 2016 who had contacts with foreign governments, including one junior aide, George Papadopoulos, who has admitted he lied to the FBI about overtures from Russian intelligence agents in London.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NPR on Tuesday there is an important difference between investigators sending an intermediary for these kinds of interviews and sustained surveillance. Earlier charges by Trump about improper surveillance by President Barack Obama’s administration ultimately imploded.
The current thread, however, dovetails with the contention from this year that FBI and Justice Department officials abused their powers in asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of another onetime Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.
That surveillance continued out of the Obama administration and into the Trump administration under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Republicans charge that it was improper.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters on Tuesday how seriously he viewed “FISA abuse,” bolstering Trump’s charges and supporting efforts by other Republicans in the House to view secret information about the Russian investigation. That’s why the Justice Department needs to provide Congress with more information, Ryan said.
To that end, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly brokered a meeting set for Thursday at which two key House chairmen are expected to meet with top law enforcement and intelligence bosses.
Trump argues the reports have exposed the shadowy cabal of conspirators inside the Justice Department and FBI who have been perpetuating the Russia investigation as a way to frame him.
“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,” Trump wrote. “They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”
Democrats howled at being excluded from the meeting as it was initially announced. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her Senate counterpart, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Wednesday for a different meeting.
Pelosi and Schumer said that if the Justice Department and FBI are going to brief members of Congress about secret information in the Russia case, they should brief the so-called “gang of eight” leaders: the top Republicans and Democrats in each chamber and the leaders of the two intelligence committees.
The Taxi King
Trump’s tweetstorm on Wednesday morning followed news from the previous evening about a guilty plea in Albany, N.Y. by Evgeny Freidman, New York City’s “Taxi King.” Freidman admitted to criminal charges that included tax fraud and grand larceny in exchange for a reduced fine and probation.
Press reports suggested that Freidman’s agreement could set the stage for additional pressure on Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who is facing a federal criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York. The two men were described as having a business relationship.
If that’s so and prosecutors can count on evidence from Freidman to use against Cohen, it could compound the legal pressure on Cohen and could create a new incentive for him to offer a guilty plea of his own in exchange for evidence against Trump or his family.
Cohen, however, said on Twitter that he doesn’t have any kind of partnership with Friedman and that the headlines about prospective new legal woes were wrong.
“I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate my medallions according to the rules of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other,” he wrote.
“I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate my medallions according to the rules of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.” #MediaWrongAgain
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) May 23, 2018