WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday unleashed an extended assault on the F.B.I. and the special counsel’s investigation, knitting together a comprehensive alternative story in which he had been framed by disgraced “losers” at the bureau’s highest levels.
In a two-hour span starting at 7 a.m., the president made a series of false claims on Twitter about his adversaries and the events surrounding the inquiry. He was responding to a report in The New York Times that, after he fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in 2017, the bureau began investigating whether the president had acted on behalf of Russia.
In his tweets,
- the president accused Hillary Clinton, without evidence, of breaking the law by lying to the F.B.I. He claimed that
- Mr. Comey was corrupt and best friends with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
- He said Mr. Mueller was employing a team of Democrats — another misleading assertion — bent on taking him down.
Individually, the president’s claims were familiar. But as the special counsel’s inquiry edges ever closer to him, Democrats vow a blizzard of investigations of their own and the government shutdown reaches record lengths, Mr. Trump compiled all the threads of the conspiracy theory he has pushed for many months in an effort to discredit the investigation.
Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I. of opening “for no reason” and “with no proof” an investigation in 2017 into whether he had been working against American interests on behalf of Russia, painting his own actions toward Russia as actually “FAR tougher” than those of his predecessors.
The Times article, published Friday evening, reported that law enforcement officials became so alarmed by Mr. Trump’s behavior surrounding his firing of Mr. Comey that they took the explosive step of opening a counterintelligence investigation against him.
Naming several of the bureau’s now-departed top officials, including Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, Mr. Trump said the F.B.I. had “tried to do a number on your President,” accusing the “losers” of essentially fabricating a case. “Part of the Witch Hunt,” he wrote — referring dismissively to the investigation now being overseen by Mr. Mueller.
At the time he was fired in May 2017, Mr. Comey had been leading the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and the officials believed that his removal, in hindering the inquiry, posed a possible threat to national security. Their decision to open the case was informed, in part, by two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the firing to the Russia investigation.
The inquiry they opened had two aspects, including both the newly disclosed counterintelligence element and a criminal element that has long been publicly known: whether the firing constituted obstruction of justice.
When Mr. Mueller was appointed days later, he took over the joint inquiry as part of his larger investigation of Russia’s action in 2016 and whether anyone on the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow. It is not clear whether he is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and no public evidence has emerged that Mr. Trump himself secretly conspired with the Russian government or took directions from it.
Mr. Trump indicated on Saturday that he had not known of the existence of the counterintelligence investigation before the Times article, and he did not dispute the newspaper’s reporting.
But he made clear that he viewed any such inquiry as illegitimate from the start. He presented it, without evidence, as part of a vast, yearslong conspiracy to undo his presidency.
In the tweets, Mr. Trump defended his decision to fire Mr. Comey — “a total sleaze!” — at length, accusing the former director of overseeing a “rigged & botched” investigation of Mrs. Clinton, and leading the agency into “complete turmoil.” Democrats and Republicans alike wanted Mr. Comey removed, he said.
“My firing of James Comey was a great day for America,” Mr. Trump wrote. “He was a Crooked Cop.”
Democrats are targeting the “20% of Trump’s voters [who] told exit pollsters they didn’t like him” hoping these reluctant Trump voters will help power a “blue wave” in the 2018 midterms and defeat President Trump in 2020.
One problem with that theory: The left’s nonstop, over-the-top attacks on Trump are not peeling those voters away from him; they are pushing them further into the president’s camp.
In recent weeks, Trump derangement syndrome on the left has reached critical mass.
- First, there was Robert De Niro’s “f— Trump” tirade at the Tony awards, followed by
- Samantha Bee’s calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—” on her TV show. Then the owners of the
- Red Hen restaurant threw out White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders because she works for the president, while chanting
- protesters heckled Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a Mexican restaurant.
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) added fuel to the fire by openly calling on mobs of left-wing activists to “absolutely harass” Trump officials. Then, there were the countless Trump opponents in the media, Congress and on Twitter who
- compared family separations at the southern border with Nazi Germany, and the
- Time magazine cover depicting Trump staring down heartlessly at a crying migrant girl and implying she was separated from her mother (until it emerged that she had not in fact been separated from her mother). And now come the
- threats to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before he has even nominated one.
.. How do liberals think that 20 percent of reluctant Trump voters respond to these displays of unbridled contempt? They are outraged not at Trump but at his critics. The unhinged hatred for the president makes these voters almost reflexively defend him.
.. “He’s not a perfect guy; he does some stupid stuff,” he tells the Times. “But when they’re hounding him all the time it just gets old.”
.. Democrats are deluding themselves if they think they lost because of “#NeverHillary” voters who will come home when she is not on the ballot. They lost because they have become a party of coastal liberal elites who have lost touch with millions of ordinary citizens in Middle America — working-class voters who are struggling with factories closing, jobs leaving and an opioid epidemic that is destroying their families. These voters concluded in 2016 that Democrats no longer care about their problems and that Trump does.
.. Spasms of anti-Trump outrage are not going to win them back. If anything, they are confirming these voters’ conclusions that Democrats still don’t get it — and don’t get them. The left’s miasma of contempt may feel cathartic, but it is the best thing that ever happened to Trump. Indeed, it may very well get him reelected.
The blizzard of lies and innuendo that President Trump has thrown up around this issue has succeeded in narrowing the questions that get asked to exactly the ones he wants. Was there a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump? Was the FBI unspeakably biased against him? Was the investigation into Russia illegitimate from the beginning? Even if you answer “no” to all of those questions, you’re still talking about what Trump wants you to talk about.
.. the Justice Department showed reporters their texts, then conservative media and Trump proceeded to make them famous, despite the fact that there is precisely zero evidence that their personal feelings about Trump biased the investigations they were involved in.
.. In contrast, a group of FBI agents in the bureau’s New York office seems to have been doing everything it could in the fall of 2016 to make sure Clinton wouldn’t become president.
.. As one report put it just before the election, “Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.”
.. As one agent put it, “The FBI is Trumpland.”
.. A former Justice Department official told Vanity Fair in 2017, “It was widely understood that there was a faction in [the New York] office that couldn’t stand her and was out to get her.”
.. It’s a bit curious to characterize FBI agents who rushed to tell a Republican congressman about Weiner’s laptop within just a few days of its discovery, and before they had gone through the emails to see whether there was anything problematic about them (which, it turned out, there wasn’t), as “whistleblowers.” Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that Nunes never told him at the time.
.. there were agents leaking information about investigations into the Clinton Foundation to none other than Rudy Giuliani, who would then go and air the charges on Fox News.
.. Two days before Comey would tell Congress that the bureau had reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails — a blockbuster announcement that may well have thrown the election to Trump — Giuliani said on Fox News, “I do think that all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton finally are beginning to have an impact. He’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next two days.”
.. an FBI source told Fox News’s Bret Baier that Clinton’s email had been hacked and she would soon be indicted — a false story that Baier later apologized for airing.
.. Many have long speculated that Comey, knowing about the antipathy toward Clinton in the New York office, assumed that if he didn’t make it public, the information would be leaked and he’d look as though he was trying to conceal it.
.. there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton.
.. we have to ask some pointed questions about the agents in the New York office. If they acted inappropriately, who were they? How many of them were involved? Were they coordinating their activities? Now that we’ve read Strzok and Page’s personal communications, should we see theirs as well?
.. perhaps the IG will in his next report, or Democrats will if they can take back Congress. Because there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that at least some FBI agents were indeed trying to swing the outcome of the 2016 campaign, and they may well have succeeded.
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.
The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”
“They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”
.. Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.
Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.
.. suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook.
.. the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.
.. In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign.
.. Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns
.. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
.. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.”
.. “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
.. recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.
.. The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent
.. Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics
.. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics
.. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.
.. But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.
.. Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends
.. When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques
.. All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said.
.. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica
.. He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm
.. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.
.. Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.
.. The firm was effectively a shell.
.. But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.
.. In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.
.. By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.
.. Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.
.. Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.