It's the kind of revelation that's still difficult to digest. The New York Times reported on Friday night that after Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017, the FBI was so concerned about the president's behavior that federal law enforcement officials "began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests."
The same report added that counterintelligence investigators "had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security."
The good news is, Republicans are deeply concerned and are demanding answers. The bad news is, they're directing those concerns at the FBI, not the president.
On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested to Fox News that the investigation was improper, and he doesn't trust some of the FBI's former top officials. As TPM noted, he wasn't the only congressional Republican directing his ire at the bureau.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) seized on a White House talking point -- that reports of the FBI investigating whether President Trump was working for Russia prove Trump was right about the deep state -- and took it a step further Monday: "that's almost like a coup."During an interview with Fox News on Monday, King called news of the probe "absolutely disgraceful."
The president himself this morning promoted a series of related messages via social media, including one that raises the prospect of the FBI having attempted a "coup" through its investigation.
Meanwhile, Fox News' Gregg Jarrett last night went so far as to tell a national television audience that he believes the FBI should be "reorganized and replaced with a new organization."
Well. That's different.
If we remove the relevant details and look at the story from a distance, I can appreciate why the FBI's examination of a sitting president -- not this president specifically, but a president -- must be approached with great care. That kind of scrutiny opens the door to possible abuses, so it's not crazy to insist that federal law enforcement act responsibly and proceed with investigations like these cautiously.
But for the Republicans lashing out at the FBI this week, the questions are obvious: what would they have the bureau do? Confronted with evidence that members of the president's team had been compromised by a foreign adversary, and facing legitimate questions about whether the president himself was siding with the adversary that attacked our elections and put him in power, was the FBI supposed to simply look the other way?
For those of us outside federal law enforcement, who read the New York Times' reporting with astonishment, there's a degree of frustration with the limited amount of available information. If the article is correct and the FBI began exploring whether, and to what to degree, Trump was advancing Russian interests, we don't know the kind of information officials relied on to justify the examination of the president's actions.
Maybe the details FBI officials saw was compelling and alarming, maybe it was thin and underwhelming. Without that inside information, it's almost impossible to say with absolute certainty whether the investigation had merit.
But given nothing but the publicly available information, is it really that difficult for Trump's partisan allies to believe his suspect actions toward Moscow warranted FBI scrutiny?