- - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Now that the FBI investigation of President Trump has been exposed as baseless, the American people are asking how the bureau could have started it in the first place.

The answer is that, according to his book “The Threat” and his “60 Minutes” interview, Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director opened the investigation into Mr. Trump and urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to investigate him based almost entirely on Mr. Trump’s comment to NBC’s Lester Holt that he thought about this “Russia thing” when he decided to fire Jim Comey as FBI director.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Holt, “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”

While that statement sounds as if Mr. Trump, in his usual truncated fashion, was saying he fired Mr. Comey because the FBI director was pursuing the Russia investigation and he wanted to stop it, Mr. Trump made it clear to aides afterward that he meant the opposite — that he was aware that firing Mr. Comey could prolong the Russia investigation. His comments to Mr. Holt immediately following his reference to “this Russia thing” confirm Mr. Trump’s claim and expose Mr. McCabe’s rationale for opening an investigation of Mr. Trump as bogus.

Mr. Trump went on to say in the interview that he supported a full investigation into Russian interference in the election. He said he never tried to pressure Mr. Comey into dropping the FBI probe of the Trump campaign and insisted, “I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia.”

Then, as noted in my book “The Trump White House,” Mr. Trump went on in the NBC interview to say, “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. Maybe I’ll expand that, you know, lengthen the time [of the Russia probe] because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago. Cause all it is, is an excuse, but I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people.”

In other words, in confusing fashion, Mr. Trump was saying that rather than trying to end the FBI’s Russia investigation, he recognized that by firing Mr. Comey in May 2017, he may have been lengthening the investigation. The media largely ignored that statement. Nor, in all the endless stories about the Russia investigation did the media point out that Mr. Trump never asked anyone to stop the investigation, that he was not a target of an FBI investigation when he fired Mr. Comey, and that he did not corruptly cover up, destroy evidence, or make false statements to mislead investigators, as happened during Watergate when President Nixon clearly obstructed justice.

In his book Mr. McCabe deliberately and dishonestly omitted the rest of what Mr. Trump said to Mr. Holt about his action firing Mr. Comey probably lengthening the investigation. Indeed, in a second reference to why Mr. Trump’s comment in the interview justified an FBI investigation, Mr. McCabe said in his book that there was no need to look further into evidence of Mr. Trump’s motivations for firing Comey since “… the president already had publicly made the connection between Comey’s firing and ‘this Russia thing …’”

In addition, in embarrassing fashion, Mr. McCabe parenthetically cited the fact that in a “demeaning and dismissive way,” Mr. Trump had called the ongoing, legitimate FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — which included the possibility of collusion by the campaign — a “witch hunt,” as if voicing his opinion as president and defending himself had anything to do with a criminal act that could help justify opening an FBI investigation.

So quite the opposite of obstructing the investigation, Mr. Trump made it clear in the Lester Holt interview that by firing Mr. Comey, as he had the right to do as president, he realized that he was probably prolonging the investigation. Yet the entire basis for starting the FBI’s obstruction and collusion investigation specifically targeting Mr. Trump was outrageously based on a phony predicate that dishonestly ignored the rest of what Mr. Trump said in the NBC interview.

Not since J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director opened FBI investigations into anyone who criticized the government and blackmailed presidents and members of Congress has the FBI been so tarnished.

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game” and “The Secrets of the FBI.”

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