Trump ‘declares war on FBI’ with savage attack on ‘showboat’ Comey
Donald Trump has attacked James Comey as a “showboat” and a “grand-stander” in an interview seeking to justify his shock decision to fire his FBI director.
The US president also directly contradicted the narrative spun by his White House that he had fired Mr Comey following an urgent recommendation from the justice department.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grand-stander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Mr Trump said. “You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that.”
Mr Trump’s character assassination came even as members of the FBI rose to defend the reputation of their former boss, setting up the potential for what an informed source termed a “war” between the White House and the bureau.
Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, declared it the “greatest privilege” of his career to have served with Mr Comey.
The president’s letter firing Mr Comey, and accompanying letters from the Attorney General’s office, asserted that he was not capable of leading the bureau, and the White House suggested that he had lost the confidence of its staff.
“That’s not accurate,” Mr McCabe said. “I can tell you that director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day.”
Mr McCabe’s testimony was supported by the heads of two associations representing current and retired FBI agents and other personnel.
“His support within the rank and file of the FBI is overwhelming,” said Thomas O’Connor, a working FBI special agent who is president of the FBI Agents Association.
One official told the ‘Washington Post’ that Mr Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI”, and that “there will be a concerted effort to respond”.
In a statement made after he was fired, Mr Comey seemed to urge calm: “I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed,” he said. “I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”
Mr Trump’s firing of Mr Comey was described as “Nixonian”, with many pointing out that not since Watergate has a president fired the person leading an inquiry into their actions.
Mr Trump is reported to have been growing increasingly frustrated with the FBI’s ongoing investigation into allegations of collusion between his associates and Russia.
Mr McCabe, long involved in the Russia investigation, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the inquiry would continue despite Mr Comey’s dismissal. He also said he would refrain from giving the White House updates on it, and would tell Congress if there was any attempt to impede the probe.
He starkly disagreed with the White House characterisation of the Russia investigation as “probably one of the smallest things” on the FBI’s plate.
“We consider it to be a highly significant investigation,” he said. “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.”
Mr Trump said yesterday that he had asked Mr Comey directly if he was being investigated, noting that he spoke with Mr Comey once over dinner and twice by phone. “I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘you are not under investigation’.”
Mr McCabe declined to confirm in his testimony whether he had ever heard Mr Comey telling Mr Trump that the president was not a target of the investigation.
Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on the FBI to say publicly whether it is investigating Mr Trump. He said: “Because it has failed to make this clear, speculation has run rampant.”
The comments came as the White House scrambled to create a coherent public narrative for the sacking. In the immediate aftermath of the dismissal, marking only the second time an FBI director has been dismissed in the agency’s 109-year history, the White House said it had followed the recommendations of the justice department.
Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who had been in post for two weeks, wrote a three-page memo criticising the way Mr Comey had handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but stopped short of recommending his dismissal.
Yesterday informed sources said Mr Rosenstein had threatened to resign, incensed that he was being cast as the prime mover for the decision.
And Mr Trump confirmed that he had long been planning to fire Mr Comey. Obsessed with loyalty, Mr Trump took Mr Comey’s recent testimony that he had felt “mildly nauseous” that his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails could have influenced in the election, as a personal affront.
The dislike was mutual, with Mr Comey privately describing the president as “outside the realm of normal,” and even “crazy,” according to sources cited by the ‘New York Times’.