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.”
President Trump said on Friday that he might revoke the credentials of additional White House reporters if they did not “treat the White House with respect,” lobbing another threat at the news media two days after his administration effectively blacklisted the CNN correspondent Jim Acosta.
.. “When you’re in the White House, this is a very sacred place for me, a very special place,” Mr. Trump said as he left Washington for a brief jaunt to Paris. “You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect.”
.. Aides to Mr. Trump said that he was most bothered by reporters who, in his view, spoke to him in a belligerent manner, and that his willingness to take questions — he did so for about 25 minutes on Friday — made him more open to scrutiny than past presidents.
.. But Mr. Trump’s retaliation against Mr. Acosta, buttressed by a false claim that the correspondent had handled a female White House intern roughly during the news conference on Wednesday, has little precedent in the modern White House.
On Friday, the president lashed out at Mr. Acosta again, calling him “a very unprofessional guy.” He went on to insult other members of the White House press corps, including April D. Ryan, the correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and one of a small number of African-American reporters who cover the administration.
.. “You talk about somebody that’s a loser; she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Ryan, in an unprompted diatribe. “She gets publicity, and then she gets a pay raise or a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty. And she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”.. In traveling to Paris, Mr. Trump may escape the Washington press corps for a few days. But he will be reunited with Mr. Acosta, who is scheduled to cover the trip for CNN.
As he so often does, President Trump falsely declared on “60 Minutes” that North Korea and the United States were going to war before he stepped in to thwart it.
Interviewer Lesley Stahl was having none of it. “We were going to war?”
Trump immediately retreated to safer ground, expressing a view rather than trying to assert a fact: “I think it was going to end up in war,” he said, before moving on to his “impression” of the situation.
The 26-minute interview that aired Oct. 14 was typical Trump — bobbing and weaving through a litany of false claims, misleading assertions and exaggerated facts. Trump again demonstrated what The Fact Checker has long documented: His rhetoric is fundamentally based on making statements that are not true, and he will be as deceptive as his audience will allow.
.. Trump resorting to all of his favored moves to sidestep the truth.
.. On Stahl’s first question, about whether Trump still thinks climate change is a hoax, the president dodged by saying “something’s happening.” He then completely reversed course and declared that climate change is not a hoax and that “I’m not denying climate change.”
.. Trump also falsely said the climate will change back again, even though the National Climate Assessment approved by his White House last year said that there was no turning back. He said he did not know whether climate change was man-made, though the same report said “there is no convincing alternative” posed by the evidence.
.. Trump did his usual shrug when asked whether North Korea is building more nuclear missiles. “Well, nobody really knows. I mean, people are saying that.” Among the people who are saying that are U.S. intelligence agencies, who have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile and is instead working to conceal its weapons and production facilities.
.. Even when he adjusts his rhetoric, at times contradicting what he has just said, Trump almost always appears to believe firmly in what he is saying.
.. On trade, the president continues to suggest that deficits mean the United States is losing money: “I told President Xi we cannot continue to have China take $500 billion a year out of the United States.”
That’s wrong. The trade deficit just means Americans are buying more Chinese products than the Chinese are buying from the United States, not that the Chinese are somehow stealing U.S. money.
.. Trump also continues to misstate the trade deficit with China. It’s not $500 billion, as he told Stahl; it was $335 billion in 2017
.. Curiously, he denied to Stahl that he ever said he was engaged in a trade war with China, even though he has said and tweeted it many times, including on Fox News last week.
.. He also falsely said that “the European Union was formed in order to take advantage of us on trade.” That’s a misreading of history, at best. The E.U. got its start shortly after World War II as the European Coal and Steel Community — an early effort to bind together bitter enemies such as Germany and France in a common economic space to promote peace.
.. Trump surfaced another old favorite knock on U.S. allies — “we shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe.” Actually, the United States pays 22 percent of NATO’s common fund. Trump keeps counting U.S. defense spending devoted to patrolling the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the world as part of NATO funding.
When it was pointed out that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former general who served in the military for 44 years, says he believes NATO had kept the peace for 70 years, Trump sniffed, “I think I know more about it than he does.”
.. Questioned about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump conceded that “they meddled.” But he added, “I think China meddled, too.” When Stahl said he was “diverting the whole Russia thing,” Trump insisted he was not. “I’m not doing anything,” he demurred. “I’m saying Russia, but I’m also saying China.”
There is no evidence China engaged in the same disinformation effort as Russia, which intelligence agencies have said was designed to swing the election toward Trump.
.. Finally, Trump continued his habit of mischaracterizing what his predecessor did. He claimed that Barack Obama “gave away” the Crimea region of Ukraine, when actually Russia seized it and Obama then led an effort to impose sanctions in response.
.. In one of the testier back-and-forths, Trump tried to shut down Stahl with one line that was indisputably true: “I’m president,” he said, “and you’re not.”
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says the United States actually has a trade surplus of US$7.7-billion with Canada. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) – the agency charged with renegotiating NAFTA – calculates the United States’ advantage as being even greater, at US$12.5-billion. According to the USTR, Canada runs a surplus in the trade of goods but the United States more than makes up for it with a surplus in the services sector.
.. The President has long been the focus of fact-checkers – a tally by the Washington Post found more than 2,000 false statements since he took office – but it is rare for him to admit that he does it. His book The Art of the Deal memorably described lying as “truthful hyperbole.”
“It’s an embarrassment to the United States for the President to be lying to other countries. There are a lot of issues where the United States has made commitments to other countries; if they can’t have confidence in the word of the President, they can’t have confidence in those commitments,” said Jordan Tama, a foreign-policy expert at American University in Washington.
Mr. Trump is preparing for sensitive talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – a high-stakes gambit aimed at avoiding a nuclear confrontation.
Roland Paris, Mr. Trudeau’s former foreign-policy adviser and now a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said world leaders learned a while ago to be careful when interpreting what Mr. Trump says and not to engage in a public spat with him.
“Trump’s language is a mish-mash of selective facts, contradictions and fabrications, but his actions are a lot more important than his words,” Prof. Paris said. “I think that the Prime Minister has been handling the Canada-U.S. file very brightly and it has involved not publicly provoking a thin-skinned President.”
Mr. Trudeau’s shrewdness is, at least, one thing on which the President would agree. In the fundraising speech, he expressed some grudging admiration for Canada’s firmness at the NAFTA table, where Ottawa is fighting back against Mr. Trump’s protectionist demands.
“Canada,” Mr. Trump said, “they negotiate tougher than Mexico.”