This past week, The New York Times revealed that after President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, FBI officials opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president out of fear that he was acting as an agent of Russia. Former FBI officials and even a source inside the Justice Department have expounded on just how remarkable that report is, explaining that there’s little immediate indication that this situation has ever unfolded before.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman spared no words in exclaiming:
‘It’s mind-blowing and even though it’s separate from criminal inquiry, any determination that the president of the U.S. had been or was a Russian agent would be out of The Manchurian Candidate. And I would have to imagine it would make it untenable for him to be president but it would also be the political scandal of all time.’
The Russia scandal has been joined at the front of the national political conversation by the ongoing partial federal government shutdown — which is the longest in American history — but it hasn’t vanished.
According to the original Times report, officials had been concerned about the president’s behavior for some time but they were only moved to act after he repeatedly explicitly tied firing Comey to a desire to have closer control of the Russia investigation. He even boasted to top Russian officials in the Oval Office that he’d fired the “nut job” FBI director so supposedly pressure from the Russia investigation had lifted.
This came after Trump sought to have Comey act as his lackey in his administration of the Russia investigation, asking for a troubling pledge of loyalty and eventually explicitly asking him to drop a probe into former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since been revealed to have secretly communicated with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak throughout Trump’s transition into office.
The questions of whether Trump should be held criminally liable for obstruction of justice and whether he acted as an agent of the Kremlin are separate.
Ali Soufan, a retired FBI counterterrorism special agent, was among those to marvel at the second question even being floated, offering:
‘This is uncharted territory. I don’t believe that it had happened before… Ever.’
Unsurprisingly, the Trump team has blasted the move, claiming it to be “absurd” and based on no evidence.
However, a trial attorney inside the Justice Department explains that the investigation would never have been undertaken without strenuous standards for evidence met, and retired FBI agent Mike German says that would only have been signed off on by the highest ranking leaders at the Justice Department.
That could include officials like the high profile Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who eventually appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the fallout from Trump firing Comey. Mueller’s investigation absorbed the FBI’s inquiry into the firing, including the question of whether it constituted a move made by a Russian pawn.
Among Mueller’s most recent scores is former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to crimes including lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower Moscow and was sentenced to three years in prison — but is testifying publicly to Congress before he goes.
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