Sunday afternoon, President Trump tweeted an extraordinary threat—extraordinary even by the standards of Donald Trump’s norm-busting use of Twitter and abusive conduct toward the Justice Department and federal investigations: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes—and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
I normally try to ignore presidential tweets. This one, however, those concerned about the integrity of law enforcement can’t ignore. It requires attention, because it could genuinely produce a crisis between the White House, on the one hand, and the Justice Department and the FBI, on the other.
I don’t want to overstate the matter. It’s possible that it won’t produce this crisis, both because Trump might (as he has done numerous times before) wimp out, and also because—as I’ll explain—he might issue the order in a fashion vague enough to be susceptible to relatively benign interpretation by the Justice Department and the FBI.
That said, the tweet on its own terms is alarming. It’s a statement of intent to issue a specific investigative demand of the Justice Department for entirely self-interested and overtly political reasons. And Trump published it in the absence of a shred of evidence that might support the demanded action. If we take his tweet at face value, the president is announcing that he will on Monday “officially” “demand” the Justice Department launch a specific investigation of activity that would be criminal were it true—about whether the DOJ and FBI spied on the Trump campaign for an improper purpose and whether the Obama administration demanded such action of them.