As probe intensifies, so do Trump attacks on Comey
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.