President Donald Trump reportedly launched a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials who were likely to testify against him or his campaign as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
As the sources familiar with the matter told Foreign Policy, the campaign began last year in June, right after former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee he believed Trump had directed him to drop the probe into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as part of the broader Russia inquiry. He also said he had discussed the possibility of Trump team derailing the investigation with other senior officials at the bureau.
Following Comey’s testimony, the commander-in-chief allegedly hired veteran criminal defense attorney John Dowd to aid him in matters related to the investigation.
According to the sources, the lawyer warned Trump the possible testimony of FBI officials could play a significant role in the special counsel’s final decision. Trump not only repeated Dowd’s words in front of two other White House officials, but also reportedly said he would have to “fight back harder.”
After speaking to Dowd, Trump began pushing his aides, surrogates and even some Republican Congress members to run what could be only be described as an unprecedented campaign against the senior FBI officials and the agency itself, explained one of the officials.
However, Dowd denied these accusations. He called them “flat-out wrong,” but also refused to reveal what he had actually discussed with the president, citing attorney-client privilege
“My advice to the president is confidential,” he told Foreign Policy. “You don’t know me. You don’t how I lawyer and you don’t know what I communicated to the president and what I did not.”
Apparently, the campaign specifically targeted three FBI officials: FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Comey’s Chief-Of-Staff Jim Rybicki and former FBI general counsel James Baker — the three men Comey had confided in.
The news about Trump’s alleged discrediting campaign comes day almost a day after The New York Times revealed the president ordered Mueller’s firing last June but backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than follow his directions.
As Axios recently reported, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also been “pressuring” FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe on Trump’s behest. However, Wray threatened to step down from his position if McCabe is removed, according to sources.
While the revelation about Trump’s attempts to discredit potential witnesses is shocking from a standpoint of respecting rule of law and institutions, it was unfortunately not surprising, considering how the president has publicly criticized the FBI and law enforcement officials often since assuming office. He's also shown a base willingness to destroy people he perceives as threatening.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters/Denis Balibouse