On Saturday morning, reporters asked Donald Trump for his reaction to his former National Security Advisor pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia. The president said he and his team are “very happy” because “what has been shown is no collusion, no collusion.”
President Trump issued a fresh denial Sunday that he asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to halt an investigation into the conduct of his dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn,” Trump said in a pre-dawn message on Twitter. “Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!”
Comey delivered congressional testimony, under oath, that Trump did pressure him about the Flynn investigation. In fact, the firmer FBI director has contemporaneous notes that quoted Trump saying in February, in reference to Flynn, “I hope you can let this go.”
It leaves the political world with a choice: believe Comey’s sworn testimony and contemporaneous materials, or believe the president, who’s strained relationship with the truth often borders on pathological.
But Trump didn’t just target Comey; he also shared some related thoughts on the bureau Comey used to lead. On Twitter, the president went on to say that the FBI’s reputation is “in Tatters” and is now the “worst in History.” (Trump still struggles with capitalization for reasons no one can explain.)
He added that “we” will restore the FBI “to greatness.”
A year ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote, “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.” It’s funny how the salience of that message continues to resonate.
Among other things, I’d love to know more about whom the president is referring to when he says “we” will fix the bureau, because for many decades, the FBI has been deliberately isolated from the West Wing in order to ensure federal law enforcement isn’t politicized. If Trump intends to change this dynamic, the nation is due for a nice, long conversation about it.
As for the idea that the FBI’s reputation is “in tatters,” this comes on the heels of the president suggesting the bureau may have cooperated with a foreign adversary, in secret, in order to undermine him – an allegation for which Trump offered no proof.
Regular readers probably know there’s no modern precedent for a White House publicly admonishing the FBI like this – especially during an ongoing investigation that may involve the president himself – and it’s likely Trump hasn’t endeared himself to those who work at the bureau’s headquarters. Remember this Washington Post report from May?
Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the firing of Comey has left raw anger, and some fear, according to multiple officials. Thomas O’Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, called Comey’s firing “a gut punch. We didn’t see it coming, and we don’t think Director Comey did anything that would lead to this.”
Many employees said they were furious about the firing, saying the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the FBI’s independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job.
One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,” one official said. “I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.”
A day after that article was published, Trump was scheduled to visit the FBI’s offices, but the White House abandoned the plan. One FBI employee told NBC News at the time, “Trump would not be well-received at headquarters.”
Seven months later, the FBI Agents Association felt compelled over the weekend to defend itself via Twitter, in apparent response to Trump’s bizarre criticisms.
If there’s wisdom behind Trump’s strategy, it’s hiding well.
Postscript: Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates doesn’t weigh into political debates often, which is why it stood out yesterday when she made an exception.