WASHINGTON â President Trump on Saturday unleashed an extended assault on the F.B.I. and the special counselâs investigation, knitting together a comprehensive alternative story in which he had been framed by disgraced âlosersâ at the bureauâs highest levels.
In a two-hour span starting at 7 a.m., the president made a series of false claims on Twitter about his adversaries and the events surrounding the inquiry. He was responding to a report in The New York Times that, after he fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in 2017, the bureau began investigating whether the president had acted on behalf of Russia.
In his tweets, the president accused Hillary Clinton, without evidence, of breaking the law by lying to the F.B.I. He claimed that Mr. Comey was corrupt and best friends with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. He said Mr. Mueller was employing a team of Democrats â another misleading assertion â bent on taking him down.
Individually, the presidentâs claims were familiar. But as the special counselâs inquiry edges ever closer to him, Democrats vow a blizzard of investigations of their own and the government shutdown reaches record lengths, Mr. Trump compiled all the threads of the conspiracy theory he has pushed for many months in an effort to discredit the investigation.
Hours later, Mr. Trump continued his broadside on a friendly television venue, Jeanine Pirroâs show on Fox News. Asked âare you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?â Mr. Trump did not directly answer the question.
âI think itâs the most insulting thing Iâve ever been asked,â he said by telephone. âI think itâs the most insulting article Iâve ever had written.â
In his twitter outburst earlier in the day, Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I. of opening âfor no reasonâ and âwith no proofâ an investigation in 2017 into whether he had been working against American interests on behalf of Russia, painting his own actions toward Russia as actually âFAR tougherâ than those of his predecessors.
The Times article, published Friday evening, reported that law enforcement officials became so alarmed by Mr. Trumpâs behavior surrounding his firing of Mr. Comey that they took the explosive step of opening a counterintelligence investigation against him.
Naming several of the bureauâs now-departed top officials, including Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, Mr. Trump said the F.B.I. had âtried to do a number on your President,â accusing the âlosersâ of essentially fabricating a case. âPart of the Witch Hunt,â he wrote â referring dismissively to the investigation now being overseen by Mr. Mueller.
At the time he was fired in May 2017, Mr. Comey had been leading the F.B.I.âs investigation into Russiaâs attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and the officials believed that his removal, in hindering the inquiry, posed a possible threat to national security. Their decision to open the case was informed, in part, by two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the firing to the Russia investigation.
The inquiry they opened had two aspects, including both the newly disclosed counterintelligence element and a criminal element that has long been publicly known: whether the firing constituted obstruction of justice.
When Mr. Mueller was appointed days later, he took over the joint inquiry as part of his larger investigation of Russiaâs action in 2016 and whether anyone on the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow. It is not clear whether he is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and no public evidence has emerged that Mr. Trump himself secretly conspired with the Russian government or took directions from it.
Mr. Trump indicated on Saturday that he had not known of the existence of the counterintelligence investigation before the Times article, and he did not dispute the newspaperâs reporting.
But he made clear that he viewed any such inquiry as illegitimate from the start. He presented it, without evidence, as part of a vast, yearslong conspiracy to undo his presidency.
In the tweets, Mr. Trump defended his decision to fire Mr. Comey â âa total sleaze!â â at length, accusing the former director of overseeing a ârigged & botchedâ investigation of Mrs. Clinton, and leading the agency into âcomplete turmoil.â Democrats and Republicans alike wanted Mr. Comey removed, he said.
âMy firing of James Comey was a great day for America,â Mr. Trump wrote. âHe was a Crooked Cop.â
Mr. Trumpâs comments echoed those that his White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, released on Friday night.
âThis is absurd. James Comey was fired because heâs a disgraced partisan hack, and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the F.B.I.,â Ms. Sanders said. âUnlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.â
Parts of the statements by Mr. Trump and Ms. Sanders are at odds with the public record and with the findings of the inspector generalâs report. While Democrats were furious with Mr. Comey over his public statements about the Clinton email server case â at a news conference and in a pair of letters in the middle of the campaign â they were deeply alarmed by his removal, given his role in the Russia investigation.
In his report, the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, pointedly criticized Mr. Comey for breaking with longstanding policy to publicly discuss the Clinton case, and he castigated âinsubordinateâ senior officials who worked with Mr. Comey for privately criticizing Mr. Trump even as they investigated him. But he ultimately said he had found no evidence to believe that the decisions not to charge Mrs. Clinton for her use of a private email server in handling classified information âwere affected by bias or other improper considerations.â
âRather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutorâs assessment of facts, the law and past department practice,â he wrote.
Mr. McCabe, who briefly served as acting director after Mr. Comey was removed, was fired last March for failing to be forthcoming with investigators about an unrelated conversation he had authorized between F.B.I. officials and a journalist. Mr. McCabe argued that the firing was politically motivated and designed to hinder the Russia investigation. Other members of Mr. Comeyâs team have also been fired or left the bureau.
Mr. Comey responded on Twitter on Saturday with a quotation attributed to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt: âI ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.â
The Times report cited former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation, as well as private testimony that the F.B.I.âs former general counsel, James A. Baker, delivered to Congress related to the inquiry.
âNot only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,â Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times.
Some former law enforcement officials outside the case have since debated whether F.B.I. investigators overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a chaotic period after Mr. Comeyâs firing. Other former officials noted that those critics were not privy to all of the evidence and argued that sitting on it would have been an abdication of duty.
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