Trump tears into FBI over in­quiry

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY NI­CHOLAS FAN­DOS AND MICHAEL S. SCH­MIDT New York Times WASH­ING­TON

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Satur­day un­leashed an ex­tended as­sault on the FBI and the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, knit­ting to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive al­ter­na­tive story in which he had been framed by dis­graced “losers” at the bureau’s high­est lev­els.

In a two-hour span start­ing at 7 a.m., the pres­i­dent made a se­ries of false claims on Twit­ter about his ad­ver­saries and the events sur­round­ing the in­quiry. He was re­spond­ing to a re­port in The New York Times that, af­ter he fired James Comey as FBI di­rec­tor in 2017, the bureau be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the pres­i­dent had acted on be­half of Rus­sia.

In his tweets, the pres­i­dent ac­cused Hil­lary Clin­ton, with­out ev­i­dence, of break­ing the law by ly­ing to the FBI. He claimed that Comey was cor­rupt and best friends with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller. He said Mueller was em­ploy­ing a team of Democrats – an­other mis­lead­ing as­ser­tion – bent on tak­ing him down.

In­di­vid­u­ally, the pres­i­dent’s claims were fa­mil­iar. But as the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­quiry edges ever closer to him, Democrats vow a bliz­zard of in­ves­ti­ga­tions of their own and the gov­ern­ment shut­down reaches record lengths, Trump com­piled all the threads of the con­spir­acy the­ory he has pushed for many months in an ef­fort to dis­credit the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump ac­cused the FBI of open­ing “for no rea­son” and “with no proof” an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2017 into whether he had been work­ing against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests on be­half of Rus­sia, paint­ing his own ac­tions to­ward Rus­sia as ac­tu­ally “FAR tougher” than those of his pre­de­ces­sors.

The Times ar­ti­cle, pub­lished Fri­day evening, re­ported that law en­force­ment of­fi­cials be­came so alarmed by Trump’s be­hav­ior sur­round­ing his fir­ing of Comey that they took the ex­plo­sive step of open­ing a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him.

Nam­ing sev­eral of the bureau’s now-de­parted top of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Comey and his deputy, An­drew Mccabe, Trump said the FBI had “tried to do a num­ber on your Pres­i­dent,” ac­cus­ing the “losers” of es­sen­tially fab­ri­cat­ing a case. “Part of the Witch Hunt,” he wrote – re­fer­ring dis­mis­sively to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion now be­ing over­seen by Mueller.

At the time he was fired in May 2017, Comey had been lead­ing the FBI’S in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s at­tempts to in­flu­ence the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and the of­fi­cials be­lieved that his re­moval, in hindering the in­quiry, posed a pos­si­ble threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. Their de­ci­sion to open the case was in­formed, in part, by two in­stances in which Trump tied the fir­ing to the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The in­quiry they opened had two as­pects, in­clud­ing both the newly dis­closed coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence el­e­ment and a crim­i­nal el­e­ment that has long been pub­licly known: whether the fir­ing con­sti­tuted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

When Mueller was ap­pointed days later, he took over the joint in­quiry as part of his larger in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sia’s ac­tion in 2016 and whether any­one on the Trump cam­paign con­spired with Moscow. It is not clear whether he is still pur­su­ing the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence mat­ter, and no pub­lic ev­i­dence has emerged that Trump him­self se­cretly con­spired with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment or took di­rec­tions from it.

Trump in­di­cated Satur­day that he had not known of the ex­is­tence of the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore the Times ar­ti­cle, and he did not dis­pute the news­pa­per’s re­port­ing.

But he made clear that he viewed any such in­quiry as il­le­git­i­mate from the start. He pre­sented it, with­out ev­i­dence, as part of a vast, years­long con­spir­acy to undo his pres­i­dency.

In the tweets, Trump de­fended his de­ci­sion to fire Comey – “a to­tal sleaze!” – at length, ac­cus­ing the for­mer di­rec­tor of over­see­ing a “rigged & botched” in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Clin­ton, and lead­ing the agency into “com­plete tur­moil.” Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike wanted Comey re­moved, he said.

“My fir­ing of James Comey was a great day for Amer­ica,” Trump wrote. “He was a Crooked Cop.”

But an in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­ducted by the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral and in­ter­nal sur­veys of FBI agents have un­der­cut Trump’s por­trayal of Comey as cor­rupt and un­pop­u­lar within the bureau.

Trump’s com­ments echoed those that his White House spokes­woman, Sarah Huck­abee Sanders, re­leased Fri­day night.

“This is ab­surd. James Comey was fired be­cause he’s a dis­graced par­ti­san hack, and his deputy, An­drew Mccabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI,” Sanders said. “Un­like Pres­i­dent Obama, who let Rus­sia and other for­eign ad­ver­saries push Amer­ica around, Pres­i­dent Trump has ac­tu­ally been tough on Rus­sia.”

Parts of the state­ments by Trump and Sanders are at odds with the pub­lic record and with the find­ings of the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port. While Democrats were fu­ri­ous with Comey over his pub­lic state­ments about the Clin­ton email server case – at a news con­fer­ence and in a pair of let­ters in the mid­dle of the cam­paign – they were deeply alarmed by his re­moval, given his role in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mccabe, who briefly served as act­ing di­rec­tor af­ter Comey was re­moved, was fired last March for fail­ing to be forth­com­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors about an un­re­lated con­ver­sa­tion he had au­tho­rized be­tween FBI of­fi­cials and a jour­nal­ist. Mccabe ar­gued that the fir­ing was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and de­signed to hin­der the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

THE PRES­I­DENT AC­CUSED HIL­LARY CLIN­TON, WITH­OUT EV­I­DENCE, OF BREAK­ING THE LAW BY LY­ING TO THE FBI.

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