As probe in­ten­si­fies, so do Trump at­tacks on Comey

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - RUS­SIA IN­VES­TI­GA­TION By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » The Repub­li­can at­tacks that ac­com­pa­nied the fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey have sharply in­ten­si­fied in the last two weeks, with broad­sides de­liv­ered on Twit­ter, pub­lic state­ments and even from the White House podium.

Comey, who in June said President Don­ald Trump and the White House had lied about him and the law en­force­ment agency he led, has been re­peat­edly ac­cused of de­liv­er­ing false tes­ti­mony, of pre­ma­turely ex­on­er­at­ing Hillary Clin­ton for her use of a pri­vate email server and of im­prop­erly leak­ing de­tails about his pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with the president.

The at­tacks, which come as Con­gress and fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors probe the cir­cum­stances of his dis- missal, ap­pear clearly de­signed to un­der­cut the cred­i­bil­ity of a vet­eran law­man whose tes­ti­mony and vivid first-per­son ac­counts loom as cen­tral to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Though Trump’s lawyers over the sum­mer had been mulling ways to un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the stepped-up salvos sug­gest White House of­fi­cials and Trump’s legal team see Comey — who, de­spite en­joy­ing broad sup­port from within the FBI, also re­ceived bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism for his han­dling of the Clin- ton probe — as a more vul­ner­a­ble tar­get for at­tack.

Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s lawyers, said this week that he did not con­sider Comey to be a “cred­i­ble wit­ness” and that there were mul­ti­ple rea­sons for Comey’s fir­ing.

But there’s also no ques­tion that at­tempts to sully Comey’s rep­u­ta­tion, and to char­ac­ter­ize him as a rogue and in­ef­fec­tive leader, are also aimed at un­der­cut­ting any po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice al­le­ga­tions aris­ing from the May 9 fir­ing and at plant­ing the idea that the dis­missal was the cul­mi­na­tion of le­git­i­mate per­for­mance con­cerns — not an ef­fort to rail­road the Rus­sia probe.

The at­tacks on Comey’s per­for­mance aren’t sur­pris­ing given the White House’s la­bored, and evolv­ing, ef­forts to ex­plain the fir­ing.

Of­fi­cials ini­tially said Trump was act­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his Jus­tice De­part­ment, which pro­duced a scathing as­sess­ment of his han­dling of the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But that ex­pla­na­tion un­rav­eled days later when Trump said he would have fired Comey re­gard­less of rec­om­men­da­tion, and was fur­ther weak­ened by the rev­e­la­tion that Trump and an aide had ear­lier drafted, but not sent, a let­ter meant to ra­tio­nal­ize the planned dis­missal. That draft memo is in Mueller’s pos­ses­sion.

The crit­i­cism of Comey be­gan im­me­di­ately af­ter his fir­ing, when White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders claimed to have heard from un­sat­is­fied FBI agents about low morale at the bu­reau.

But it has es­ca­lated in the last two weeks.

The at­tacks have galled cur­rent and for­mer FBI agents who were fond of Comey.

James Comey

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