Probe: FBI in­ves­ti­gated pos­si­bil­ity that Trump tried to aid Rus­sia.

The agency pur­sued crim­i­nal and in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2017

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT AND ELLEN NAKASHIMA devlin.bar­[email protected]­post.com [email protected]­post.com

The FBI investigation into Pres­i­dent Trump that was opened al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter he fired then-Di­rec­tor James B. Comey also in­cluded a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence com­po­nent to de­ter­mine if the pres­i­dent was seek­ing to help Rus­sia, and if so, why, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

The de­ci­sion by then-act­ing FBI di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe to open an investigation of a sit­ting pres­i­dent was a mo­men­tous step, but it came af­ter Trump had cited the on­go­ing investigation into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion in his de­ci­sion to fire Comey, these peo­ple said.

The coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence com­po­nent of the Trump investigation was first re­ported by the New York Times.

Trump re­sponded Satur­day morn­ing on Twit­ter, blast­ing for­mer FBI leaders, crit­i­ciz­ing their han­dling of an ear­lier investigation into Hil­lary Clin­ton and rip­ping the on­go­ing Rus­sia probe. Trump has re­peat­edly de­nounced the FBI and Jus­tice De­part­ment in such harsh terms, un­der­scor­ing the gulf be­tween the White House and the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment agen­cies in his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The cor­rupt for­mer leaders of the FBI, al­most all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad rea­sons, opened up an investigation on me, for no rea­son & with no proof, af­ter I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a to­tal sleaze!” the pres­i­dent tweeted. “My fir­ing of James Comey was a great day for Amer­ica. He was a Crooked Cop.”

McCabe was fired last year, and a grand jury is weigh­ing pos­si­ble charges against him for al­legedly mis­lead­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors in a leak probe.

Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tions are dif­fer­ent from crim­i­nal probes, in that their chief purpose is to un­der­stand what a for­eign ad­ver­sary like Rus­sia is try­ing to do to in­flu­ence Amer­i­can so­ci­ety or coun­ter­act U.S. poli­cies, and if any Amer­i­cans are as­sist­ing in those ef­forts, either know­ingly or un­wit­tingly.

In the case of the investigation into Trump, the FBI’s de­ci­sion to open a file on the pres­i­dent so quickly af­ter Comey’s fir­ing in May 2017 was a source of con­cern for some of­fi­cials at the Jus­tice De­part­ment be­cause the FBI acted with­out first con­sult­ing lead­er­ship at the de­part­ment. But those worries were al­layed when, days later, special coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III was ap­pointed to over­see the Rus­sia probe, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss sen­si­tive in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

At the time the FBI be­gan di­rectly in­ves­ti­gat­ing Trump, it wanted to un­der­stand if he was at­tempt­ing to ob­struct jus­tice by fir­ing Comey and un­der­stand the rea­sons for his be­hav­ior, which also in­cluded com­ments in an NBC in­ter­view two days af­ter Comey’s dis­missal.

In that in­ter­view, Trump said, “When I de­cided to just do it, I said to my­self — I said, ‘You know, this Rus­sia thing with Trump and Rus­sia is a made-up story.’ ”

In ad­di­tion to that state­ment, top bureau of­fi­cials were also con­cerned about a draft let­ter to Comey that Trump had wanted to de­liver but never did — with a bel­liger­ent and de­fen­sive tone — that made re­peated ref­er­ences to Comey’s pri­vate state­ments to Trump that he wasn’t per­son­ally un­der investigation in the Rus­sia probe, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

“The FBI sees [these ac­tions] and it has two jobs: It needs to try to fig­ure out why the per­son is be­hav­ing that way — that’s the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence part — and it needs to suss out whether that be­hav­ior is crim­i­nal in na­ture,” one of­fi­cial said. “It is hard to over­state how dev­as­tated the lead­er­ship of the bureau was when Comey was fired — not be­cause they loved him, al­though many in the FBI did love him — but be­cause it com­pletely broke so many norms and ap­peared to be a move that had nothing to do with Comey and ev­ery­thing to do with the pres­i­dent’s own in­ter­ests.”

The of­fi­cial said that the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence and crim­i­nal in­quiries were al­ways linked.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a mem­ber of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said the rev­e­la­tions are dis­turb­ing. “A lot of the be­hav­ior which has sent peo­ple to jail — largely about ly­ing about Rus­sia — oc­curred be­fore the fir­ing of Comey,” he said in an in­ter­view. “So if the FBI had con­cerns that the pres­i­dent was wit­tingly or un­wit­tingly act­ing in the Rus­sians’ in­ter­ests as late as the fir­ing of Jim Comey, that’s a pretty scary thought — es­pe­cially since we don’t know what else they [the in­ves­ti­ga­tors] know.”

He added that “the FBI open­ing any investigation is a highly doc­u­mented, well-con­sid­ered and well-re­viewed process. This one would have been par­tic­u­larly care­fully un­der­taken.”

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The de­ci­sion by then-act­ing FBI di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe, be­low, to open a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence file on Pres­i­dent Trump af­ter he re­moved James B. Comey, top, as di­rec­tor in May 2017 con­cerned of­fi­cials at the Jus­tice De­part­ment be­cause of a lack of lead­er­ship con­sul­ta­tion.

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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