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A White House staff uneager to provoke the confrontation might, in fact, formulate the president’s directive intentionally in a fashion that lends itself to such a response. The most direct way to do this would be to frame the directive as a inquiry as to whether evidence exists that justifies opening an investigation. A more confrontational approach would be to order the department to conduct a review and make a determination. The point is that unless the White House specifically frames the order in a fashion that precludes an informational response that the factual predicate for an investigation does not exist, the department could interpret the order in a fashion that defers a confrontation.
The department, in an apparent effort to head off a confrontation, preemptively yesterday evening kicked the question to the department’s inspector general. “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said in a statement. This action may allow the department to respond to the president’s “demand” by noting that the matter is, in fact, already under review—albeit not the sort of review Trump probably has in mind. It’s unclear whether this will satisfy Trump, and it is itself...
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