By EILEEN SULLIVAN and PETER BAKER
© 2017 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — Frustrated with the Justice Department’s reluctance to investigate his political opponents, President Donald Trump on Friday said he would like the agency to run itself, but he and “a lot of people” are disappointed in the top federal law enforcement agency.
Trump on Thursday acknowledged that presidents are not supposed to interfere with Justice Department investigations, but he weighed in anyway with a series of Twitter posts early Friday morning and said the department should investigate the Democrats’ activity during the 2016 campaign.
“At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper,” Trump said in a series of early morning Twitter posts that echoed some of the president’s comments late Thursday.
Trump’s demands for new investigations into Democratic campaign activity come the same week as the special counsel’s first charges in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. One of Trump’s foreign policy advisers during the campaign pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
It is unusual for a sitting president to badger his Justice Department to investigate a political opponent, but Trump has consistently tried to deflect attention away from the Russia investigation by suggesting Democrats should also be the subjects of federal inquiries.
A recent first-person book excerpt in Politico by Donna Brazile, the former interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, offered new ammunition for Trump. Brazile wrote a stinging account of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s controlling grip of the party during the election.
Trump has previously called for the Justice Department to investigate Clinton and her presidential campaign. This week, he repeated those requests and called for the death penalty for the suspect in the recent terrorist attack in New York.
The president’s comments about the death penalty could pose problems for prosecutors and help defense lawyers for Sayfullo Saipov, the immigrant from Uzbekistan accused of carrying out the attack in New York that killed eight people and injured others.
Defense attorneys could argue that Saipov could not get a fair trial when the president of the United States publicly calls for the most extreme punishment before a judge has heard any evidence.