White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed a New York Times report on Friday that said the FBI opened an inquiry into President Donald Trump shortly after he fired FBI Director James Comey that centered on whether the commander in chief was a national security threat to his own country.
The FBI was so distressed by President Donald Trump’s behavior in the second week of May 2017, when he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, that it opened criminal and counterintelligence investigations to determine if the president was acting on behalf of Russia against the United States or had fallen under its sway, the New York Times reported on Friday night. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III soon assumed control of and merged the FBI investigations into his own, and no evidence has surfaced publicly to show that Trump had become a willing Russian dupe. But even so, the Times account pulses like a John le Carré thriller as the FBI works to determine if the country has fallen to the Russians in a silent coup.Update at 1 pm EST – Saturday January 12th
FBI antennae began twitching in summer 2016 during the campaign, the Times reports, when Trump urged the Russians to find and release Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. Trump seemed never to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Republican Party platform went soft on the Russians over the Ukraine invasion. Later, as the Steele dossier gained circulation inside higher Washington circles, directly claiming that Trump had been compromised, worries inside the bureau became palpable. But it was the firing of Comey, buttressed by the interview Trump gave to NBC News’ Lester Holt in which he said he sacked the director because of the Russia investigation, that prompted the FBI to act.
“This is absurd,” Sanders said in a statement provided to POLITICO. “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.”
According to the Times’ report, the FBI’s investigation was related to whether Trump had obstructed justice by firing Comey but also included a counterintelligence component on whether Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had fallen under the Kremlin’s influence — a revelation that had not been previously reported.
Friday’s report was based in part on the accounts of unnamed former law enforcement officials, “others familiar with the investigation” and former FBI general counsel James. A Baker’s private congressional testimony.
The report further states that the bureau’s investigation, including the counterintelligence aspect, was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose appointment was put into motion by Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017.
But in an acknowledgment of just how serious an FBI investigation of a sitting president would be, the report details a “vigorous debate” among former law enforcement officials about whether the probe was an overreach.
The report drew quick reaction among legal analysts on social media. Carrie Cordero, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown, said the report showed a “cautious” FBI “not eager” to investigate the president.