President Trump made his most clear statement yet about the Justice Department and how the Democratic Party handled the 2016 election, stopping just shy of directing a DOJ probe into the matter. Such a move is unusual for a sitting president.
“But honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at [Tony] Podesta and all of that dishonesty,” Trump said of the Justice Department. “They should be looking at a lot of things. And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.”
At issue are comments by former acting Democratic National Committee chief Donna Brazile that the party’s official organization was being controlled by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. That tilted its actions away from her top foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Also at issue is Anthony Podesta’s abrupt departure from the Podesta Group, a powerful Washington lobbying firm he founded, after reports he, too, is swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping Russia probe.
Trump in the past has questioned whether Anthony Podesta, who goes by Tony and is the brother of Clinton’s 2016 campaign chief John Podesta, received “big money” to push for the termination of Russian sanctions, as the president once put it.
Trump’s comments Friday, which came to reporters on the White House’s South Lawn as he left for Hawaii then Asia, are his most direct yet that he wants a Justice probe specifically into the Democrats’ 2016 campaign activities.
The comments followed a string of tweets Friday morning also calling for a DOJ probe – but the spoken words of a U.S. president carry considerably more weight.
That amounts to a rare move in U.S. politics: a sitting president is actively – and repeatedly – calling for his political opponents to be investigated by his Justice Department. Presidents typically leave those decisions to their attorney general and FBI director.
Trump tacked slightly in that direction: “I’m really not involved with the Justice Department. I’d like to let it run itself,” he said.
He also claimed to recall very little about a 2016 campaign staff meeting that included George Papadopoulos, the former adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s team about his contacts with Russians connected to the Kremlin during the campaign.
He was referring to a foreign policy meeting his campaign aides scheduled amid questions about whether he, as a candidate, was getting advice from experts or just going with his gut. There is a now-infamous photograph of Trump sitting mere feet from Papadopoulos whom candidate Trump last year referred to as an “excellent guy.”
Now Trump and his top aides are trying to put as much distance as possible between the president and Papadopoulos, who has been cooperating with Mueller for months, according to court documents and legal experts.
His comments before boarding Marine One came after Trump went on a Twitter rant in the hours and minutes before he departed for a 12-day swing through Asia. (The White House said Friday morning he is extending his trip by one day, adding a second day in the Philippines.)
He lashed out at Clinton, the DNC, and pressured DOJ and the FBI on the Democratic Party’s actions.
And he reverted to his campaign-trail name-calling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., again referring to her as “Pocahontas.” He also in one post called Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., “Crazy Bernie.” Trump describes this kind of rhetoric as “modern day presidential.”