In his latest unprecedented attack on federal law enforcement, President Donald Trump on Friday accused top officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI of favoring Democrats, even though many of them are actually Republicans.
The president’s comment came hours after he green-lighted the release of a controversial secret memo authored by congressional Republicans that alleges the FBI abused U.S. spying law investigating Trump’s campaign. The FBI this week urged Congress not to release the memo, saying it contains misleading and inaccurate information.
Democrats, meanwhile, have said the memo is just another attempt by Republicans to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russia. Four former Trump officials have been charged in connection with the Mueller probe.
Trump’s frustration with the Russia investigations, which he’s often referred to as a hoax and a “witch hunt,” is longstanding and well documented. As the investigation has heated up in recent months, Trump’s allies have turned to a long-running right-wing conspiracy: the so-called deep state. The most recent example of this theory stems from a series of text messages sent between two romantically involved FBI employees ― Agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page. In one message sent the morning after Trump’s election win, Page joked about the existence of a “secret society.”
“It may be time to declare war outright against the deep state and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department,” Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs said last week.
The president seems to agree.
The notion that the FBI was somehow unfair to then-candidate Trump during the 2016 election should surprise anyone who followed it. The bureau at the time said nothing about its ongoing probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. But then-FBI Director James Comey excoriated Hillary Clinton in a press conference in which he announced that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges in its probe of her email.
Then, in the days leading up to the election, Comey sent two letters to Congress ― one that Strzok helped draft ― that set off a media firestorm about the Clinton email investigation. Clinton later blamed Comey’s actions for her defeat.
Trump’s insistence on Friday that the FBI and the Justice Department had “politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats” also undermines the reason his own White House claimed for Comey’s firing in the first place. A memo justifying Comey’s firing, written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said he could not “defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
Trump quickly sabotaged Rosentein’s explanation, telling NBC in an interview that the “Russia thing” was a factor in why he fired Comey, and that he would have removed the FBI director “regardless of recommendation.” At the time, Trump called Rosenstein a “highly respected” and “very good guy, very smart guy.”
Trump now reportedly insists Rosenstein, a Republican, is a Democrat, and a threat to his presidency.
This article has been updated to include previous statements of Trump and administration officials.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.