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.”
Roger Stone began his career in political dirty tricks young. In 1960, he was eight, and decided he liked John F. Kennedy’s hair more than Richard Nixon’s. It was important to him for Kennedy to win the mock election at his school, which leaned Nixon, so he began sidling up to kids in the cafeteria line to ask, “Did you know Nixon has proposed school on Saturdays?” Kennedy won in a landslide unexpected enough that the local newspaper picked up the story.
.. Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker wittily dubs “the sinister Forrest Gump of American politics — this Machiavellian, almost crazy guy who shows up at every key moment in recent American history.”
.. a highly placed New York political figure told me that it was Stone who convinced Donald Trump not to enter the Empire State’s gubernatorial race in 2014, thereby saving him from what would likely have been a humiliating loss. Instead, Stone argued Trump should keep his powder dry for a White House run in 2016, an idea that appealed to the future president’s predilection for the big and bold.
.. Manafort adds that Stone was deeply involved in campaign messaging even after Trump fired him (Stone says he quit) around the time the candidate began taking heat for his contretemps with Megyn Kelly.
.. Toobin says. “He doesn’t worry that you think he’s a sleazeball; he wants you to think he’s a sleazeball.”
.. But if Stone helped turn politics into a joke, maybe that joke isn’t funny anymore, if it ever was. Stone is a reason why we have a president who is more at home in a professional-wrestling ring than he is discussing the origins of the Civil War. Over footage from The Apprentice, Stone explains that Trump looked tough and authoritative and decisive on the show: “Do you think voters, non-sophisticates, make a difference between entertainment and politics?” If we did once think that, we don’t anymore.
.. Weekly Standard writer Matt Labash captures the upshot of that understanding with characteristic pithiness: “Now the children’s table is the adult table and Alex Jones is passing the dinner rolls.” Donald Trump turned out to be the president for this American moment. Roger Stone saw that, but he didn’t Jedi-mind-trick the rest of us into playing along.