FBI Director James Comey was “incredulous” over the weekend after President Donald Trump’s allegation via Twitter that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones during the campaign, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.
The source said Comey was concerned that the allegation would make the FBI look bad, and that concern was part of what prompted the FBI director to have his staff reach out to staff at the Justice Department asking them to knock down the allegation. The source said Comey felt “institutionally he has to push back on this” because the magnitude of the allegations that Comey knows not to be true.
That seems to be a gross understatement. Trump knows the president cannot wiretap anyone on his own. His allegation therefore implicitly accuses the FBI of participating in a nefarious, illegal scheme. If Trump actually believes that, he is obligated to fire Comey in order to remove the taint from the FBI. If he has no information, he must exonerate the FBI — for he has implicitly smeared its personnel.
Comey reportedly went to the Justice Department to demand push-back for precisely this reason. He knows the president was implicating the FBI. His obligation is to defend his bureau against scurrilous, false charges so as to maintain the credibility of its activities. If he went to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was denied, Sessions may be in violation of his pledge to recuse himself from matters relating to the election controversy. If this was the decision of his deputy, Dana J. Boente, he must explain why he denied the request.
From what we have seen and heard from former national security figures, the former president and members of Congress, the allegation is made up out of whole cloth. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have all said they have seen no evidence to support the claim. The allegation would suggest that significant numbers of FBI agents and perhaps judges were involved in a scheme, with no proof whatsoever.
It is therefore essential for one or both judiciary committees to hold immediate hearings, calling Comey, Boente and Sessions to testify. The FBI, if guilty as charged, cannot continue to investigate the Trump team’s connections to Russia; its hands are “dirty,” as it were. If the FBI has done nothing wrong, Trump has created an institutional crisis, inventing a claim to damage the integrity of the premier law enforcement entity.
Now, the fact that the Justice Department has refused to speak up or that Republicans refuse to act speedily to conduct hearings to resolve the cloud hanging over the FBI does not mean that Comey should remain silent. To the contrary, he and his bureau’s integrity has been maligned and he must speak up to defend the institution he leads.
Fortunately, there is an opportunity to explore this subject in the confirmation hearing for Trump’s Justice Department No. 2 (Rod J. Rosenstein) and No. 3 (Rachel L. Brand), which is underway today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both nominees need to be asked whether they are aware of any information concerning alleged wiretapping, whether they have discussed the matter with their soon-to-be boss and whether Rosenstein considers this to be one of the matters for which Sessions is recused. If so, what does Rosenstein plan on doing, and will he agree, as Comey requested, to refute the spurious allegation that implicates the FBI in a massive conspiracy?