Shortly after President Donald Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017, the FBI began investigating whether the commander in chief was in fact a sort of double agent and was working for Russia, according to a bombshell New York Times report. The firing sparked such concern within the bureau that investigators began to examine whether the president was a threat to national security and whether Trump—knowingly or not—was doing Moscow’s bidding. The probe didn’t last long in the FBI’s hands though. Mere days after the investigation was opened, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over the investigation.
It isn’t clear whether Mueller is still pursuing that line of inquiry as part of his broader probe. But so far at least, “no evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials,” reports the Times.
The Times “account pulses like a John le Carré thriller as the FBI works to determine if the country has fallen to the Russians in a silent coup,” notes Politico’s Jack Shafer. After all, the decision to open up the probe was the culmination of months of concern among agents that Trump may be working for the Kremlin. The way that Trump called on Moscow to get Hillary Clinton’s emails and his apparent refusal to criticize Russia while campaigning, were just two of the things that raised some eyebrows in the bureau. But none of that seemed enough to open up the investigation until Comey’s firing and his now-infamous interview with NBC in which the president seemed to say he had gotten rid of the FBI chief because of the Russia probe.
The White House immediately pushed back on the piece with the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, releasing a statement calling the report “absurd.” Comey “was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack,” she said.
Trump didn’t dismiss the report as outlandish, instead characterizing it as yet another example of why the then-FBI leadership couldn’t be trusted. In a tweet on Saturday morning he didn’t question the veracity of the Times report, but did say he didn’t now the investigation had been launched. “Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a total sleaze!” Trump wrote.
Shortly afterward, the president launched a tweetstorm, defending his decision to fire Comey. “Everybody wanted him fired, Republican and Democrat alike,” Trump wrote. He then went on to call the firing of Comey “a great day for America” because “the FBI was in complete turmoil.” The president also said that Comey, whom he called a “crooked cop,” is “being totally protected by his best friend, Bob Mueller, & the 13 Angry Democrats.” And then, as if to dismiss the entire premise of the Times story, Trump said he has been “FAR tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush or Clinton. Maybe tougher than any other President” and once again characterized the investigations against him as nothing but a “Witch Hunt.”