Speculation mounting that US president is being investigated for obstruction of justice
Trump turns on FBI after former adviser Flynn's confession
Donald Trump launched an angry counter-attack against the investigation closing in on his inner circle on Sunday, denouncing his own FBI and trying to divert attention from his administration’s travails back to Hillary Clinton’s emails.
It came amid deepening speculation that the president is being investigated for obstruction of justice after Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents.
Mr Trump’s tirade represented an unprecedented attack on one of his own federal agencies and focused on its former director James Comey.
“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness,” the president wrote.
The words were classic Trump, hitting back on social media and stoking the anger of his base.
But they also suggest turmoil at the White House and follow a difficult week for President Trump. Although Republicans steered a sweeping tax cut through the Senate on Friday, it coincided with a major twist in the federal investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Mr Flynn served as a key foreign policy adviser and his decision to begin co-operating with investigators is expected to expose more senior figures in Mr Trump’s inner circle – including, possibly, his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Analysts suggested the twin developments – a legislative win coupled with a growing sense of crisis – would both embolden the president and increase his sense of victimisation.
That spilled on to Twitter yesterday when he railed against ABC News - which was forced to suspend a reporter and issue a correction for its coverage – the justice department and the FBI.
He highlighted reports that an FBI officer had been removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election interference because of anti-Trump text messages. American news organisations said Peter Strzok was an experienced counter-intelligence officer who helped lead the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information.
Mr Trump wrote: “Report: “ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE” Now it all starts to make sense!”
He and his supporters have repeatedly demanded to know why the FBI dropped its investigation into his election campaign opponent over her use of a private email server, while four members of the Trump team have now been charged.
“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed,” wrote Mr Trump, “while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday “interrogation” with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times...and nothing happens to her? Rigged system, or just a double standard?”
He also denied asking James Comey, when he was FBI director, to drop his investigation into Mr Flynn. That allegation forms the basis of accusations of obstruction of justice.
Things could yet get worse for the president. Mr Flynn’s plea deal specifies that he will answer questions and undergo lie detector tests and “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”. Law enforcement experts said that suggested he could have been asked to wear a covert wire or record telephone conversations.
While every twist and turn has been seized on by the president’s critics, many of his supporters remain unimpressed.
Michael Johns, a founder of the ultra-conservative Tea Party, said there was nothing illegal about speaking to Russian officials during an election campaign.
“It’s very difficult to look at this a year and a half on and conclude there’s a broad illegal conspiracy,” he said. “You have to conclude this is more of a political fact-finding operation than it is a law enforcement investigation.”
On the other hand, conservative critics suggested Mr Trump’s diversionary tactics hinted at hidden secrets.
Bill Kristol, editor at large of the Weekly Standard, wrote on Twitter: “Trump sure is behaving like someone with a lot to hide, which he hopes to keep hidden by putting the focus on the investigators.”
Whatever comes next, the issue continues to cast a long cloud over the administration.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to dispel another source of instability, denying that he would be leaving his post to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA.
Mr Trump has frequently undermined his most senior diplomat by pushing for more hardline foreign policy responses and publicly contradicting his positions on everything from North Korea to Qatar.
Mr Tillerson said the reports of his ousting were wrong.
“People need to get better sources," he said before attending a state department dinner to celebrate the recipients of this year's Kennedy Centre Honours, which are prestigious awards for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. He added that he hoped to be at the same reception next year.
"I’m going to be here as long as I can be effective and get something done," he said. "We’re getting a lot done."