Former FBI director James Comey is accusing President Trump of peddling “dumb lies” by asserting that bureau officials engaged in “treason” against him by investigating links between Russia and his campaign.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Comey, a frequent critic of Trump, brands the president a “liar” and argues for the need to call him out for what the former FBI director terms as Trump’s baseless rants about “treason and corruption” at the FBI.
Comey also declares that the FBI did not “spy” on Trump’s or any other presidential campaign – a dig at Attorney General William Barr, who said last month he believed Trump’s campaign was spied on and that he was reviewing the origins of the investigation to determine whether intelligence collection was adequately predicated.
“Millions of good people believe what a president of the United States says. In normal times, that’s healthy. But not now, when the president is a liar who doesn’t care what damage he does to vital institutions,” Comey writes. “We must call out his lies that the FBI was corrupt and committed treason, that we spied on the Trump campaign, and tried to defeat Donald Trump. We must constantly return to the stubborn facts.”
As recently as last week, Trump suggested Comey, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and other officials had committed “treason” by conducting the original counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump and some Republicans have long alleged the investigation was started by agents biased against Trump, pointing to text messages exchanged by FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page – both of whom worked on the original Russia investigation – in which the two expressed criticisms of Trump before the election.
“A number of people. They have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
In the op-ed, Comey describes the treason accusations as a baseless “conspiracy theory,” arguing that agents would have leaked the existence of the probe into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia if they were intent on handing Hillary Clinton the election over him.
“The FBI wasn’t out to get Donald Trump. It also wasn’t out to get Hillary Clinton. It was out to do its best to investigate serious matters while walking through a vicious political minefield. But go ahead, investigate the investigators, if you must,” Comey writes.
“When those investigations are over, they will find the work was done appropriately and focused only on discerning the truth of very serious allegations. There was no corruption. There was no treason. There was no attempted coup. Those are lies, and dumb lies at that. There were just good people trying to figure out what was true, under unprecedented circumstances,” he writes.
Comey also writes that the FBI was justified in its original investigation into Russian interference. Comey points to information the bureau received about former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos learning the Russians had information that could damage Clinton before WikiLeaks began releasing hacked emails that were tied to the Russian plot.
Comey also pushes back on Republican suggestions that the FBI abused its surveillance powers in applying for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, noting investigators believed they had “probably cause” to seek such a warrant and that there was “reason to believe he was acting as an agent of the Russian government.”
Barr is currently conducting a review of what he has described as the “genesis and conduct” of the original counterintelligence investigation. Barr has tapped John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to spearhead the investigation. The Justice Department inspector general is also conducting an investigation into whether the FBI followed protocol in applying for the warrant to surveil Page, and is expected to wrap up in May or June.
Trump last week gave Barr the power to unilaterally declassify documents related to his investigation, and ordered U.S. intelligence officials to swiftly cooperate with the attorney general in his probe.
Special counsel Robert Mueller took over the Russia investigation after Trump abruptly fired Comey in May 2017 – an event that sent shockwaves through Washington and is examined extensively in the special counsel’s final report as one potential episode of obstruction by Trump.
Mueller wrapped up his probe in late March. He did not find evidence to charge members of Trump’s campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin; the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, but Barr has deemed the evidence insufficient to accuse Trump of obstruction.