President Donald Trump may have suddenly shifted his narrative on Monday from his unpopular assault on the press to instead accusing the FBI of misconduct in the aftermath of the “birther” conspiracy theory that cast the former president as an illegitimate occupant of the White House. In doing so, the president once again bestowed significant credence to an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory peddled by right-wing activists who insisted that Obama was not born in the United States. At least, that’s how one Iowa senator has characterized Trump’s most recent claim.
“It appears like a corrupt attempt by the FBI to go out and influence the election,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told CBS News in an interview published Monday.
Perhaps because he did not fully comprehend Grassley’s assertion, the president himself later tweeted: “The new @ChuckGrassley statement is big!”
The new @ChuckGrassley statement is big! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2018
Grassley’s extremely rare questioning of the allegations against his own president took place while he was chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s closed-door confirmation hearing for current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. After the hearing, as he was making his way to a press conference, Grassley again fielded questions about his very unusual claims.
“For three and a half years we’ve been telling people we have problems with the FBI and they haven’t given us anything to work with,” Grassley told reporters. “With this large joint committee and the closest I’ve had to contact with the FBI before today was maybe 10 years ago, we asked them repeatedly to come before the committee and they declined and I really believe that.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is also a member of the committee, called Grassley’s statement “very serious” and reportedly shared the news with Trump himself on Sunday.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, also doubled down on Grassley’s claim in comments to the Wall Street Journal. “We know the FBI didn’t physically go over and question him, but they were deeply involved,” Giuliani said. “It’s reasonable to suggest that a couple of FBI guys knew before it got to that point and wouldn’t give it to the president.”
Giuliani’s suspicions appeared to be confirmed by Buzzfeed News’ report on Wednesday afternoon that FBI officials had, in fact, interviewed the president back in May 2017. Comey, who resigned last May amid increasing backlash to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wrote the letter asking for a formal interview with Trump but only at the last minute. As previously reported, the meeting took place aboard Air Force One with the full FBI national security division present. “Comey assured President Trump that a counterintelligence investigation of the Russian meddling was closed and done,” Buzzfeed reported.
Reuters’ Mark Hosenball revealed more details in a story published Thursday morning that described the overall scope of the investigation as “expansive” and included “participation by current and former White House officials.”
As the editorial board of the Washington Post pointed out, it might be “convenient” for the president to focus on illegal FBI actions, but Trump’s accusations “ignore” the recent firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after he refused to accept Trump’s demand that he lobby for the president’s appointment as FBI director. And as was revealed in former FBI director James Comey’s recent congressional testimony, Trump’s negative comments about the FBI to McCabe have been corroborated by a contemporaneous memo written by Comey himself.
“Over time, the FBI’s dedication to its mission undermined the president’s claims and has given credibility to the bureau’s counterintelligence probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 election,” the Post editorial board wrote. “There’s plenty of blame to go around in the sorry circumstances of the 2016 election, but Trump seems only to be interested in finding fault with the FBI.”
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