Via the New York Times:
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, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment. Sarah Isgur Flores, the spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also declined to comment.
A statement by the Justice Department or Mr. Comey refuting Mr. Trump’s allegations would be a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement officials in the position of questioning the truthfulness of the government’s top leader. The situation underscores the high stakes of what the president and his aides have set out by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration.
Three things immediately jump out of this. First is the sourcing. I am at sort of a loss to know what to make of it. I have been reading newspapers for a long time and I have to admit being more than a little unclear on what the attribution “senior American officials” means here. Ordinarily they would be “department,” “agency,” or “administration” officials. I did a quick Google search and it is used as a source very sparingly and almost universally when there could be some confusion about the nationality of the officials quoted. My guess is that the sources are former Obama appointees who retired and who are still on the federal payroll to use their accrued leave or Obama appointees who are still employed by the Trump administration.
Secondly, the allegation that Comey is allegedly objecting to is that Obama ordered the tapping of Trump’s phones. This is the cute dodge being used everywhere to ignore the very serious implications of a counterintelligence operation being run by an administration to target a candidate for president and his campaign.
Third. Does this story sound reasonable to you? Who, exactly, did Comey think he was going to get in Justice, when it is literally one-Trump-appointee deep, to
carry out a kamikaze mission issue a statement contradicting the president. DOJ has never suffered a lack of cretins but this would be an exceptional find.
So count me skeptical on this count. But let’s look ahead at something that makes a lot more sense:
The White House showed no indication that it would back down from Mr. Trump’s claims. On Sunday, the president demanded a congressional inquiry into whether Mr. Obama had abused the power of federal law enforcement agencies before the 2016 presidential election. In a statement from his spokesman, Mr. Trump called “reports” about the wiretapping “very troubling” and said that Congress should examine them as part of its investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election.
Along with concerns about the potential attacks on the bureau’s credibility, senior F.B.I. officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public’s expectations that the federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election.
The second paragraph here, apparently sourced to the nebulous “senior American officials” based on their knowledge of the feelings of “senior FBI officials,” makes sense if there was a wiretap. I think there is already a fairly high expectation on the part of the public that the feds have significant evidence linking members of the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence because Clapper and Brennan have basically been saying that since November. And if this turns out to be a nothingburger the intelligence community and the FBI are going to take a major hit to their credibility. But they should have thought that through before they signed on the public campaign to discredit Trump.
It the report is true, Comey will get a chance to make his case to House and Senate investigators and no-harm-no-foul. If a counterintelligence operation was carried out targeting Trump’s campaign, well, he’ll get a chance to explain that, too.
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