FBI Director James Comey has rejected President Trump’s sensational claims that President Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones before the election last year. According to a report in the New York Times published Sunday evening, Comey contacted the Justice Department shortly after Trump made the allegations on Saturday to ask them to publicly deny the story. According to senior officials speaking to the newspaper, Comey made the call because Trump’s claim wrongly insinuates that his organization broke the law.
This apparent rebuke of a sitting president by America’s top law enforcement official will be seen as a very significant move, especially given Comey’s pivotal role in speaking out publicly last October about investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server — a move widely viewed as having a detrimental impact on her campaign.
In a mini-tweetstorm on Saturday, while he was at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump accused Obama of tapping his phones in October, just before the election. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump tweeted.
Trump offered no evidence to back up his claims — just as with his comments about widespread voter fraud during the election — but the allegations appear to stem from similar claims made by conservative talk show host Mark Levin on his show last Thursday, when he said Obama had used the “instrumentalities of the federal government” against Trump. This was then picked up by Breitbart News on Friday before making its way into Trump’s Twitter feed 24 hours later.
A statement from Obama’s camp strongly denied the allegations: “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.”
Trump has called for a congressional hearing to be made into the claims and, on Sunday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said — again via Twitter — that the president would be “requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
Spicer added that neither the White House nor Trump would be commenting again on the matter “until such oversight is conducted.” Both the Justice Department and the FBI have so far failed to comment on the situation.
A report from the Washington Post on Sunday reported that Trump travelled to Florida on Friday in a rage, angry at Sessions’ decision to recuse himself, the ongoing leaks from his administration, and the never-ending reports of links to Russia. “He was pissed; I haven’t seen him this angry,” Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of conservative media company Newsmax, said, after meeting Trump this weekend.
Trump’s anger didn’t abate on Sunday, according to White House reporter Maggie Haberman, as the president thought those speaking on his behalf on the TV talk shows didn’t defended him strongly enough.
One of those defending Trump — as Sean Spicer made sure to point out — was former Attorney General Mike Mukasey, who told ABC’s “This Week” that he thinks Trump is “right, in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney general — at the Justice Department.”
However, Spicer failed to include that Mukasey also said Trump was incorrect in accusing Obama of ordering the wiretapping. “I think the president was not correct certainly in saying that President Obama ordered a tap on a server in Trump Tower,” Mukasey said.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former director of national intelligence James Clapper strongly denied any such wiretaps existed. “For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”
Countering Clapper’s claims, deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told “This Week” that Trump’s claims were based on “information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential,” adding that if it proves to be true, “this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself.”
Late on Sunday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News: “I don’t know what Mr. Comey knows. All I saw was a published news report. I didn’t see a statement from him. If Mr. Comey has something he’d like to say, I’m sure we’re all willing to hear it.”