President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey triggered an FBI investigation as agents feared the president was working on behalf of the Russian government, the New York Times reported late Friday, citing law enforcement and others familiar with the investigation.
This new reporting reveals that the investigation into Trump was much bigger than we knew and that it was two-pronged, with both counterintelligence and criminal components. The counterintelligence part was concerned with whether Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, was working as an agent of the Russian government against American interests. The criminal aspect of the probe regarded whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” former FBI general counsel James A. Baker testified to House investigators in October, according to the Times.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller inherited both parts of the investigation, which became his probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s role in it.
While the bureau had decided not to investigate Trump’s Russia ties directly during the campaign, focusing on his associates instead, they did become suspicious when Trump exhibited behavior that seemed friendly to Russia. For example, during a press conference, Trump spoke directly to the camera and addressed Russia, asking them to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI also noticed Trump refused to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin and that the GOP softened and removed language from its platform supporting Ukraine, which Russia had recently invaded.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, unsurprisingly, responded with a strong denial of the Times’ reporting.
“This is absurd,” Sanders said in a statement. “James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI. Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”
Member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said in an interview with the Washington Post that the news is especially revealing because it means Trump was still acting on behalf of Russia five months into his presidency: “A lot of the behavior which has sent people to jail — largely about lying about Russia — occurred before the firing of Comey. So if the FBI had concerns that the president was wittingly or unwittingly acting in the Russians’ interests as late as the firing of Jim Comey, that’s a pretty scary thought — especially since we don’t know what else they [the investigators] know.”