After holding on through a tumultuous year, FBI Director James Comey may finally have gone a bridge too far by trying to undermine President Donald Trump in the public sphere.
It’s a controversy that will complicate what’s left of Comey’s appointed tenure.
“[Comey] clearly has had a credibility issue and he’s reacting to that by challenging the president.”
Months after being at the center of election-year controversy that drew fire from all political sides, Comey or someone close to him leaked to The New York Times that he did not agree with Trump’s assertions, made via Twitter on Saturday, that Trump Tower was the target of federal surveillance in 2016.
Comey asked the Justice Department last weekend to “publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Trump’s phones,” unnamed senior federal officials told The New York Times Sunday.
Comey has apparently argued that Trump’s charge — that President Barack Obama’s administration ordered a wiretap on Trump himself or his operations within Trump Tower in Manhattan — is false and must be corrected as a matter of public record.
The charge has been roundly condemned by the mainstream media — from commentators in the Washington Post to CNN — but the theory has roots in mainstream media outlets, and even left-wing newspapers. Notably staff to Obama also refused to categorically deny over the weekend that Trump Tower could have been the target of Justice Department surveillance.
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Left-leaning U.K. news outlet The Guardian reported on Jan. 11 that “the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance [FISA] court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials.”
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“The FISA court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus,” Tthe Guardian continued. “According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.”
On Saturday, Trump was defended by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who said surveillance at Trump Tower, or of Trump associates, was likely conducted. But Mukasey said Obama was probably not the one who ordered it.
“I think he’s right in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney general — at the Justice Department,” Mukasey told ABC’s “This Week.”
Yet instead of letting the issue play out, Comey reportedly sent out messages that he disagreed with the president. Normally, such a move would cause the president to lose faith in his subordinate. But Comey is in the middle of a 10-year term, having assumed office in 2013.
The president could still ask Comey to resign, which is what some political observers expected when Trump took office.
“If I were Trump, I would have never kept Comey,” said Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under former President Reagan.
DiGenova told LifeZette that Comey, once again, has failed to stay out of the spotlight.
“He should be quiet,” said diGenova. “Asking the Department of Justice to defend him under these circumstances is not necessary … This is not about James Comey.”
The White House took some measures on Monday morning to hush Comey.
Speaking on “Good Morning America,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president rejected Comey’s assertion.
“I think [Trump] firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets,” said Huckabee Sanders. “And we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee.”
At this point, some political observers wonder if Comey behaves in ways to score points with certain factions. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said Comey was looking to show he could stand up to Trump.
“[Comey] clearly has had a credibility issue and he’s reacting to that by challenging the president,” said Sekulow.