President Trump claimed Friday that he had been “totally exonerated” by a new Justice Department report that is highly critical of several key FBI figures in the Hillary Clinton email probe, including former FBI director James B. Comey.
The report by the department’s inspector general offered no findings regarding the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election.
But the president seemed to suggest that he had been cleared because of the criticism in the report directed at top FBI officials — whom he referred to as “scum” — who had expressed animus toward him or otherwise used poor judgment during the investigation of Clinton. Several of those officials have also played key roles in the Russia investigation.
“Take a look at the investigation. Take a look at how it started,” Trump said. “The top people were horrible . . . . They were plotting against my election.”
While the report released Thursday documented missteps by Comey and other FBI officials during the email probe, it found no evidence that the decision to clear Clinton was the result of political bias, and it was silent on the Mueller probe.
Trump, however, argued Friday that the Mueller investigation “has been totally discredited,” and singled out Comey, whom he fired last year, for additional scorn.
“I think Comey was the ring leader of this whole, you know, den of thieves,” the president said. “It was a den of thieves.”
Trump’s comments came during an impromptu live interview with “Fox & Friends” from the White House lawn and a freewheeling gaggle afterward with other reporters.
Trump told reporters that he considered the inspector’s general’s work “a pretty good report” but said he “blew it at the very end.”
“Well, the end result was wrong,” Trump said. “There was total bias.”
In a series of morning tweets and again while talking to reporters, Trump seized on the actions of FBI agent Peter Strzok, a key figure in both the Clinton email and Russia probes.
Strzok was criticized in the new report for having sent a text to an FBI lawyer during the 2016 campaign saying that “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.
“What he did was criminal,” Trump said of Strzok, who was taken off the Russia probe and reassigned to another FBI position after earlier anti-Trump texts surfaced. “Peter Strzok should have been fired a long time ago and others should have been fired long ago.”
Trump stopped short of echoing the comments of his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said Thursday that Strzok should be jailed by the end of next week.
During an appearance on Fox News, Giuliani also called on top Justice Department officials to “redeem themselves” by ending Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.
“Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people, to investigate these people like Strzok,” Giuliani told Fox host Sean Hannity.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Trump declined to say whether he thinks Comey should be jailed, but characterized his actions as “criminal.” The inspector’s general report made no such determination.
“I would never want to get involved in that,” Trump said. “Certainly he, they just seem like criminal acts to me. What he did was criminal. ... What he did was so bad in terms of our Constitution, in terms of the well-being of our country. What he did was horrible.”
While Trump and his allies are using the report on the Clinton email probe to undermine the Russia investigation, Democrats have argued that they have nothing to do with one another.
“It contains no evidence to make any reasonable person conclude that the Mueller investigation is anything other than independent, impartial & just as important today as it was before this report was issued,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter after reading the report Thursday.
Before speaking with reporters Friday, Trump fired off a couple of tweets in which he called the inspector general’s report “a total disaster” for both Comey and the institution he once led
“The IG Report is a total disaster for Comey, his minions and sadly, the FBI,” Trump wrote. “Comey will now officially go down as the worst leader, by far, in the history of the FBI. I did a great service to the people in firing him. Good Instincts.”
Trump said that Comey’s replacement, Christopher A. Wray, “will bring it proudly back!”
In one of his tweets, Trump also took aim at Strzok, whose text exchange in August 2016 with an FBI lawyer was detailed in the report.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded. Page and Strzok were romantically involved and used their work phones to engage in long-running text discussions of various work and personal topics, according to people familiar with the case.
“FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who headed the Clinton & Russia investigations, texted to his lover Lisa Page, in the IG Report, that ‘we’ll stop’ candidate Trump from becoming President. Doesn’t get any lower than that!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump also sent out over Twitter a series of video clips in which guests on “Fox & Friends” criticized the FBI and suggested that the inspector general’s report would have a major impact on the Russia investigation.
“Anything that Mueller is doing in this investigation is tainted by the fact that you had these people who had a political objective to take down Donald Trump,” former representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in one clip sent out by the president.
Trump was back on Twitter on Friday afternoon, casting the Russia investigation as the latest challenge he’s had to overcome, starting with a competitive 2016 GOP primary.
“I’ve had to beat 17 very talented people including the Bush Dynasty, then I had to beat the Clinton Dynasty, and now I have to beat a phony Witch Hunt and all of the dishonest people covered in the IG Report...and never forget the Fake News Media. It never ends!” Trump wrote.