President Trump said Thursday that he had personally directed the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation and determine who was responsible for what he said were illegal leaks that have unfairly damaged his fledgling administration.
by Charlie Savage/Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times2017
“I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks,” Mr. Trump said during a contentious, 75-minute news conference at the White House. “Those are criminal leaks.”
No law forbids a president from making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, but it is unusual for a president to direct the agency to open a criminal investigation into his perceived opponents or to talk publicly about having done so. The White House, under presidents of both parties, has generally restricted direct contact with the Justice Department about prospective investigations to avoid the appearance of politicizing law enforcement.
Typically, if an agency believes that classified material from its own records was improperly disclosed, it will make a referral to the Justice Department, which decides whether to open an investigation.
Mr. Trump appeared particularly incensed at public reports about his rancorous phone conversations with foreign leaders, including telling the president of Mexico the he might send American troops to stop “bad hombres down there,” and berating the prime minister of Australia over an Obama-era deal to resettle refugees and then cutting the call short.
He also expressed frustration over leaks about federal surveillance that picked up pre-inaugural phone calls between the Russian ambassador and Michael T. Flynn, who resigned under pressure this week from his role as national security adviser.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s call or on whether it had opened an investigation.
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