Obama told reporters in a private 2017 meeting he worried 'the most' about the politicization of law enforcement, the FBI, and the IRS during Trump's presidency
- Prior to leaving office in 2017, Barack Obama had a private, candid conversation with reporters.
- The interview's transcript was published by Bloomberg News on Friday.
President Barack Obama told a group of reporters in an off-the-record conversation before he left office that one of the things he was most worried about when it came to his successor, Donald Trump, taking office, was the politicization of law enforcement agencies.
A transcript of the previously unreported January 17, 2017, conversation with a group of progressive journalists was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and published by Bloomberg News on Friday.
"I mean, I think that the dangers I would see would be — and we saw some hints of this in my predecessor — if you politicize law enforcement, the attorney general's office, U.S. attorneys, FBI, prosecutorial functions, IRS audits, that's the place that I worry the most about," Obama told reporters.
The roundtable, which took place three days before Trump's inauguration, was kept private for over five years after the meeting was held due to conditions agreed upon by the reporters who were present for the gathering.
The Justice Department included the transcript of the interview in a slew of documents released in response to a FOIA request.
Obama candidly discussed his foresight for Trump's presidency with reporters. He said the reason he had concerns with the politicization of agencies like the FBI and the IRS was because it creates a "chilling effect."
"And it's one thing if that's just verbal. But if folks start feeling as if the law enforcement mechanisms we have in place are not straight, they'll play it straight," Obama said. "That's dangerous, just because the immense power — one of the frustrations I've had over the course of eight years is the degree to which people have, I think in the popular imagination and certainly among the left, this idea of Big Brother and spying and reading emails and writing emails — and that's captured everybody's imaginations."
Obama told reporters that any investigation coming from the DOJ is a "scary piece of business."
"But I will tell you, the real power that's scary is just basic law enforcement. If the FBI comes and questions you and says it wants your stuff, and the Justice Department starts investigating you and is investigating you for long periods of time, even if you have nothing to hide, even if you've got lawyers, that's a scary piece of business, and it will linger for long periods of time," Obama said in 2017.
Obama urged reporters to keep a close watch on the government's investigative bodies for even a "hint of politically motivated investigations."
"I would be like white on rice on the Justice Department. I'd be paying a lot of attention to that," Obama advised reporters. "I think you guys have to really be on top of that."
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