President Donald Trump on Friday touted news reports that a former FBI lawyer is suspected of altering a document related to surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser in 2016.
The Associated Press has confirmed reports by CNN and The Washington Post that the finding is part of a Justice Department inspector general investigation into the FBI's probe of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to release a report on Dec. 9, and witnesses in the last two weeks have been invited in to see draft sections of that document.
The conduct of the FBI employee didn't alter Horowitz's finding that the surveillance application of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had a proper legal and factual basis, an official told the Post, which said the lawyer was forced out.
A person familiar with the case was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke to AP only on condition of anonymity. The CNN and Washington Post reports also cited unidentified individuals.
Still, the release of the inspector general report is likely to revive debate about the politically-charged Russia investigation that has shadowed Trump's presidency since the beginning. Trump has long insisted that the investigation into his campaign was a "hoax" and "witch hunt."
"This was spying on my campaign — something that has never been done in the history of our country," Trump told "Fox & Friends" on Friday. "They tried to overthrow the presidency."
Spokespeople for the FBI and the inspector general declined to comment Friday.
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The FBI obtained a secret surveillance warrant in 2016 to monitor the communications of Page, who was never charged or accused of wrongdoing. The warrant, which was renewed several times and approved by different judges in 2016 and early 2017, has been one of the most contentious elements of the FBI's Russia investigation and was the subject of dueling memos last year issued by Democrats and Republicans on the House intelligence committees.
"They got my warrant — a fraudulent warrant, I believe — to spy on myself as a way of getting into the Trump campaign," Page said in an interview on Fox Business' "Ask Maria" with Maria Bartiromo. "There has been a continued cover-up to this day. We still don't have the truth, but hopefully, we'll get that soon."
FBI Director Chris Wray has told Congress that he did not consider the FBI surveillance to be "spying" and that he has no evidence the FBI illegally monitored Trump's campaign during the 2016 election. Wray said he would not describe the FBI's surveillance as "spying" if it's following "investigative policies and procedures."
Attorney General William Barr has said he believed "spying" did occur, but he also made clear at a Senate hearing earlier this year that he had no specific evidence to cite that any surveillance was illegal or improper. Barr has appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate how intelligence was collected, and that probe has since become criminal in nature, a person familiar with the matter has said.
But Trump insists that members of the Obama administration "at the highest levels" were spying on his 2016 campaign. "Personally, I think it goes all the way. ... I think this goes to the highest level," he said in the Fox interview. "I hate to say it. I think it's a disgrace. They thought I was going to win and they said, 'How can we stop him?'"