President Trump, in remarks broadcast Sunday, said former President Obama "certainly must have known about" what he characterized as high-level efforts by "FBI guys that were low-lifes" and other intelligence operatives to undermine his presidency.
Speaking in a contentious interview with ABC News’ "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos, Trump blunted his accusation by adding, "I'm not gonna make that statement quite yet." But, as two Justice Department inquiries actively probe the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, Trump hinted more facts would soon come out.
"You clearly believe there was a group of people working against you," Stephanopoulos asked. "Do you think President Obama was behind it?"
"I would say that he certainly must have known about it because it went very high up in the chain," Trump responded. "But, you're gonna find that out. I'm not gonna make that statement quite yet. But I would say that President Obama had to know about it."
In May, Trump issued a memo giving Attorney General William Barr the authority to declassify any documents related to surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016.
As part of its ongoing "multifaceted" and "broad" review into potential misconduct by U.S. intelligence agencies during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department revealed last week it also was investigating the activities of several "non-governmental organizations and individuals."
After Trump pointed out he had turned over more than a million documents and chose not to exert executive privilege over any aspect of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on his level of cooperation with investigators.
"You didn't sit for an interview. You didn’t answer questions on obstruction," Stephanopoulos, a former top aide to Bill Clinton, said.
"Now, wait a minute," Trump shot back. "Wait a minute. I did answer questions. I answered them in writing."
"Not on obstruction," Stephanopoulos repeated twice.
"Look, George, you're being a little wise guy, okay, which is, you know, typical for you," Trump responded. "Just so you understand, very simple, it's very simple, there was no crime. There was no collusion. The big thing's collusion. Now, there's no collusion. That means they set -- it was a setup, in my opinion, and I think it's gonna come out."
Trump continued: "I hope it’s gonna come out. We are going to find out very soon, because I really believe it's gonna come out. When you look at [Peter] Strzok, these FBI guys that were lowlifes, when you look -- 'cause the FBI's the greatest. But these -- the top people were absolutely lowlifes. When you look at Strzok and [Lisa] Page and they're talking about an insurance policy just in case she loses, that was the insurance policy," referring to the former FBI agent and attorney.
The DOJ has announced that its probe, let by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, also was looking into the involvement of "foreign intelligence services." Former Trump aide George Papadopoulos told Fox News last month that an informant who was likely "CIA and affiliated with Turkish intel" had posed as a Cambridge University research assistant in September 2016 and tried to "seduce him" to obtain information linking the Trump team to Russia.
The DOJ also has indicated it was looking closely at work performed by Fusion GPS, the firm retained by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee (DNC) to conduct opposition research against the Trump campaign.
Fusion GPS, in turn, hired British ex-spy Christopher Steele to produce an unverified and largely discredited dossier that the FBI went on to cite in secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court applications to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page.
Internal FBI text messages, obtained by Fox News, showed that FBI brass tussled with a senior DOJ official over the apparent "bias" of a key FISA source at that time. Reporting by The Hill, confirmed by Fox News, has since revealed that Steele met with a State Department official shortly before the FBI obtained the Page FISA. The official then promptly communicated numerous concerns about Steele's credibility to the FBI, including that some of his claims were self-evidently false and that his client was "keen" to see his work product surface prior to Election Day.
Multiple sources familiar with the matter told Fox News that Durham has been "very dialed in" and "asking all the right questions." Separately, sources within the Justice Department confirmed to Fox News that Barr has met "on multiple occasions in recent weeks" with Durham in Washington, D.C.
The DOJ's internal watchdog has been conducting an independent inquiry into potential surveillance abuses and misconduct. Previously the DOJ Inspector General (IG) found numerous actual and apparent violations of policy by FBI officials and agents, including taking inappropriate gifts and leaking without authorization to the media.
In May, the IG released an investigative summary finding that an unnamed former FBI deputy assistant director engaged in "misconduct," including leaking "sensitive" information to the media, violating federal law by disclosing sealed court records and taking a gift from someone in the media. The IG declined to recommend prosecution without explanation.
"Do you believe that President Obama spied on your campaign?" Stephanopoulos asked toward the end of the interview after Trump remarked that "a previous administration used the intelligence data and the intelligence agencies to spy on my campaign."
"I don't know," Trump said. "But, hopefully we're gonna find out."