The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump's phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement. [...]Mr. Comey's request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation's top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump's truthfulness. The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump's weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump's young administration.
The day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan wanted to tell the incoming White House team that Michael Flynn had been lying about his contacts with Russia. FBI Director James Comey disagreed.As the Washington Post reported last month, Comey pushed back against the idea "primarily on the grounds that notifying the new administration could complicate the agency's investigation" into Russia's intervention on Trump's behalf. Quoting a source familiar with Comey's thinking at the time, the FBI director didn't think the bureau should be "the truth police.""In other words, if there's not a violation of law here, it's not our job to go and tell the vice president that he's been lied to," the source said.A month later, Donald Trump apparently started lying to the nation about former President Obama wiretapping the Republican's phone line before the election. According to the New York Times' reporting, Comey believed in this case that the FBI should be the truth police.
It's worth pausing to appreciate the circumstances the nation finds itself in. The sitting president of the United States, apparently after reading some nonsense on a right-wing website, seems to have lied to the nation about a conspiracy involving his predecessor. The director of the FBI -- a Republican appointed by Obama -- concluded that the president was lying and asked the Justice Department to tell Americans the truth.The Justice Department ignored the request, allowing Trump's apparent deception to stand.There's no reason to assume Comey was motivated by a desire to defend Obama. On the contrary, this is about the bureau he leads: if federal officials conducted illegal surveillance against Trump during the election, the misdeeds would've been conducted by the FBI.In other words, Comey had an incentive to push back against Trump's bizarre conspiracy theory, not because of Obama, but to defend the bureau.The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who appears to have given false testimony about his own contacts with Russia, made no effort to correct the record over the weekend. If the Times' reporting is accurate, it suggests the DOJ simply blew off Comey's plea.A White House spokesperson, meanwhile, was asked on ABC News this morning whether Trump accepts Comey's findings. "No, I don't think he does," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the president's perspective.So the president is at odds with the FBI director, and the FBI director is at odds with the Justice Department, all in response to Donald Trump's latest conspiracy theory, which offers evidence that the president is more inclined to believe Breitbart News over James Comey.Among the many questions on my mind this morning: does Comey have any regrets for intervening in the presidential election last October and helping put Trump in the Oval Office?