FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department on Saturday to refute claims made by President Trump that the Obama administration had tapped his phones, according to a report in the New York Times.
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.
Mr. Comey’s request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump’s truthfulness. The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump’s weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration.
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 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.
One problem Mr. Comey has faced is that there are few senior politically appointed officials at the Justice Department who can make the decision to release a statement, the officials said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself on Thursday from all matters related to the federal investigation into connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia.
Mr. Comey’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering is certain to invite contrasts to his actions last year, when he spoke publicly about the Hillary Clinton email case and disregarded Justice Department entreaties not to.
Why didn’t Comey just release the statement of denial himself? He’s a senior Justice Department official and presumably would be in the know about any surveillance warrants issued by intelligence agencies. Perhaps the director believed such a statement would be too self-serving. He would be seen as trying to exonerate himself when it would be more effective if the denial came for the department itself.
DoJ may be hesitant about releasing a statement about anything related to the wiretaps anyway. This is the political hot potato of all political hot potatoes and if Justice doesn’t have to become involved, they probably won’t.
Drudge is headlining “Comey Turns on Trump” on his site while linking to the Times article above, suggesting that Comey was somehow on Trump’s side. This is nonsense. By getting both sides angry at him during the campaign — not recommending the indictment of Clinton and then reopening the investigation close to election day — if anything, Comey demonstrated a strict neutrality of which both sides were suspicious.
His request to the Justice Department to clear the FBI of wrongdoing is an effort to protect his agency from the fierce political winds that are blowing in Washington.