In March, The Washington Post reported that America’s highest ranking intelligence officials were allegedly approached by President Donald Trump with a request to get the F.B.I the end their investigation into ostensible collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign staff during the 2016 presidential race.
The particular focus of Trump’s request was reportedly the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and the target was the former director of the F.B.I, James Comey. If proven to be true, this would not be the first attempt by Donald Trump to influence the investigation progress, as it is alleged that he made such a request directly to Mr. Comey earlier this year.
James Comey was later fired from his position at the head of the F.B.I, and analysts have been speculating ever since that the reason for firing Comey may have been that Trump was displeased with Comey’s persistence in getting to the bottom of the Russian meddling scandal.
Trump’s reasons for firing Comey have been inconsistent. At one point Trump said that his decision was based on the fact that “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” adding that he “also got a very, very strong recommendation,” as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. However, merely a week before Trump made that statement, he had told NBC’s senior anchor, Lester Holt, something completely different.
“I was going to fire Comey – my decision. There is no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
A further development in the allegations that Trump was trying to interfere in the F.B.I’s investigation into, among others, Michael Flynn, surfaced in March. Two of America’s top intelligence officials – Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) – divulged to their associates that President Trump had requested them to intervene in Comey’s investigation and, more specifically, to back off Flynn. Trump also reportedly asked the intelligence officials to issue statements denying any evidence that there had in fact been collusion between Russia and Trump campaign staff.
In March, Coats was asked to remain behind after a White House briefing that included representatives of several government agencies. The only people left in the room were Trump, C.I.A Director Mike Pompeo, and Daniel Coats. According to officials close to Coats, Trump complained about the F.B.I investigation and alleged that Comey was not doing a good job of it. Trump reportedly asked Coats to intervene, however, after discussing the event with his associates, Coats determined that such interference would be improper.
Trump allegedly had a similar conversation with Adm. Mike Rogers which was recorded in a memo by an N.S.A staffer. It is unclear whether Coats had documented his meeting with Trump in the same way. Staffers close to Coats and Rogers have said that if the multiple Congressional probes into Russia’s ostensible election meddling were to ask for those records, the memos would be handed over.
The significance of these allegations is that, if true, it would show that Trump took additional steps to place pressure on Comey to drop the investigation.
Meanwhile, on Thursday James Comey will be testifying in a Congressional hearing that is conducting a probe into the Russia collusion allegations. According to political analysts, the testimony will be a historic event, marking Comey’s first appearance in public after he was dismissed as the head of the F.B.I. The most important question he may be asked will be whether he believes that Trump committed an act of obstruction of justice in requesting it to ease of Flynn during the Russia probe.
Tracy Schmaler, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staff member who was present during a 2007 hearing in which Comey testified, believes that the former F.B.I chief “has made a career of providing bombshell testimony to Congress.” She adds, “In that respect, Thursday will be what everyone’s expecting — the most anticipated hearing so far in the Trump administration.”
It has also been alleged that James Comey asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ensure that he was never left alone with Trump.
Political commentators have said that what these developments show is that Trump does not understand the delicate nature of the relationships between the various U.S. intelligence agencies. An example of the relationships can be seen in Comey’s handling of last year’s Obama administration era investigation into collusion between Trump staff and Russia. At the time, James R. Clapper was at the helm of the national intelligence department, yet even so, Comey did not divulge sensitive information to Clapper. This is reportedly standard procedure.
Current and former senior intelligence officials have speculated that Trump was trying to “muddy the waters” in an attempt to discredit U.S. intelligence agencies.
“The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation.”
A former advisor to the C.I.A, Jeffrey H. Smith, has compared Trump’s actions to President Richard Nixon’s “unsuccessful efforts to use the C.I.A to shut down the F.B.I’s investigation of the Watergate break-in on national security grounds.” Smith added that Trump’s actions are “an appalling abuse of power.”
The British newspaper, The Guardian, reported that James Clapper delivered a speech to Australia’s National Press Club on Wednesday. According to the report, Clapper told the press club that the current “events in Washington now are more serious than the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.”
Clapper also said that Trump’s decision to share sensitive intelligence information with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates was “very problematic,” and that the firing of James Comey was “egregious and inexcusable.”
“I think you compare the two, that Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now.”
Clapper added that he was having a “real hard time reconciling the threat the Russians pose to the United States and, by extension, western democracies in general.”
“The Russians are not our friends.”
In the meantime, it is alleged that White House officials will try to discredit James Comey as an unreliable witness. Earlier this week Kellyanne Conway provided her own insight into the veracity of Comey’s accusations.
“The last time he testified under oath, the F.B.I had to scurry to correct the testimony.”
Conway was referring to James Comey’s inaccurate information regarding the number and type of emails that had been exchanged by Hillary Clinton’s aide during the probe into the emails scandal.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]