On Saturday, President Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower before the 2016 election. He offered no evidence to support his claim, and it's not yet clear that any such evidence exists — so perhaps it's no surprise, that, according to The New York Times and NPR, FBI Director James Comey reportedly asked the Department of Justice to publicly refute Trump's allegation shortly after the president tweeted it. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice told Bustle that the agency isn't commenting on the matter, while the FBI didn't return Bustle's request for comment.
If it's true that Comey made this request, that would speak volumes about the state of the U.S. government. The FBI, the DOJ, and the White House are all part of the executive branch, and as a general rule, the chiefs of executive branch agencies act and speak in lockstep with the White House. In part, this is because the president himself appoints those chiefs. But for the nation's top law enforcement officer to ask that the government's legal department publicly break with the president would be... well, it'd be something. It certainly wouldn't suggest that the executive branch is terribly cohesive at the moment.
On the one hand, this news should be encouraging to opponents of Trump. It would suggest that Comey — reviled by many on the left for that letter he sent during the presidential campaign — isn't actually a Trump sycophant, and is willing to buck the president when necessary. That would be a good thing, especially given the fact that Republicans in Congress, by and large, have seemed happy to take marching orders from Trump without question. This was starkly evident on Sunday, when House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes agreed to launch an investigation into Trump's claims, despite a complete lack of evidence to support them.
NPR has confirmed the Times story: Comey requested DOJ publicly deny Trump's allegation that Obama ordered a wiretap of Candidate Trump.— Scott Detrow (@scottdetrow) March 5, 2017
On the other hand, Trump foes also have good reason to be frustrated by this. For one, it's possible that if Comey made this request, he did it out of self-preservation: If Trump was right, and the federal government did tap Trump's Tower, that would potentially implicate Comey himself, as the FBI is one of several agencies responsible for wiretaps. Moreover, there's the lingering question of why, if Comey so strongly disputes Trump's account, he hasn't issued such a denial himself. Nothing is stopping the FBI Director from denying Trump's allegations, and yet Comey hasn't. His reasoning behind that decision is unclear.
On Sunday, White House Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "if" Trump's claims were true, they would amount to "the biggest overreach" on the part of Obama. But ABC host Martha Raddatz grilled Sanders on her repeated use of the qualifier "if." After all, claiming that a former administration wiretapped his phones without evidence is a pretty serious allegation to make if Trump and his aides aren't absolutely sure of it.