On the heels of a bombshell revelation detailing President Donald Trump's failed attempt to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June, Foreign Policy reported Friday night that Trump launched an effort to "discredit" FBI officials last year "after learning that those specific employees were likely to be witnesses against him" in Mueller's Russia probe.
"At this point, it would appear Donald Trump has engaged in a massive pattern of obstruction of justice. These actions by the president are beyond not normal. These actions constitute multiple felonies."
—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
The "smear campaign"—as one lawmaker termed it—began after Trump was warned by his personal attorney John Dowd that former FBI director James Comey's claim that Trump pressured him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be corroborated by senior FBI officials.
"Dowd warned Trump that the potential corroborative testimony of the senior FBI officials in Comey's account would likely play a central role in the special counsel's final conclusion, according to people familiar with the matter," Foreign Policy reported. "In discussions with at least two senior White House officials, Trump repeated what Dowd had told him to emphasize why he and his supporters had to 'fight back harder,' in the words of one of these officials."
In response to Dowd's warning, Trump reportedly "pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out" a campaign to undermine the officials' credibility.
Speaking to Foreign Policy, Dowd denied the accounts given by administration officials, but declined to elaborate or explain why they are incorrect. The White House refused to comment at all.
Foreign Policy goes on to list the FBI officials who have been publicly targeted by Trump and his supporters:
The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey's firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey's chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI's general counsel. Those same three officials were first identified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.
Since Comey's testimony, Trump and his political supporters have personally targeted all three FBI officials.
Rybicki has been the frequent target of Republican attacks in recent months. This week, Wray announced that Rybicki, who had continued as chief of staff under the new director, was resigning.
Trump also mentioned Baker, who was recently replaced as the FBI’s top lawyer, following allegations that he had served as a source for a reporter. “Wow, ‘FBI lawyer James Baker reassigned,’ according to @FoxNews,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 23.
Trump has singled out McCabe for his most aggressive attacks.
Mueller has reportedly already alluded to the president's "campaign" in interviews with administration officials.
"Mueller has asked senior members of the administration questions in recent months indicating that prosecutors might consider Trump's actions also to be an effort to intimidate government officials—in this case FBI officials—from testifying against him," Foreign Policy reports.
Critics were quick to argue that the new reporting provides yet more evidence that Trump has obstructed justice.
If you suspect the Trump administration and its allies have launched a smear campaign against senior FBI officials in order to protect the President from potential witnesses who can corroborate the testimony of former FBI Director @Comey, you're right. https://t.co/pFgI1pEq0M pic.twitter.com/3D6A9BUOki
— Raja Krishnamoorthi (@CongressmanRaja) January 26, 2018
At this point, it would appear @realDonaldTrump has engaged in a massive pattern of Obstruction of Justice. These actions by @POTUS are beyond not normal. These actions constitute multiple felonies. https://t.co/xPgh9utmhO
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 27, 2018
— Waldo Jaquith (@waldojaquith) January 27, 2018
Insanity!! It just keeps getting deeper. Where is our Congress? https://t.co/xIUc8T3XUH
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 26, 2018