‘A calculated attack': The White House says the DOJ ‘should certainly look at’ prosecuting James Comey – Business Insider


FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about tax reform during a visit to Loren Cook Company in Springfield, Missouri, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S.
President Trump speaks about tax reform during a visit to Loren
Cook Company in Springfield

Thomson
Reuters


White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday
said the Justice Department “should certainly look at”
prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey for leaking
“privileged information” and giving “false testimony” to
Congress.

“His actions were improper and likely could have been
illegal,” Sanders said when asked whether the president stands by
his decision to fire Comey. 

“Comey leaked memos to the New York Times,” Sanders said,
incorrectly. (Comey gave them to a friend who then passed them
along to a reporter.) 

A reporter then followed up and asked whether the president
would “encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey” over the leaked
notes and the “potential false testimony.”

“That’s not the President’s role,” Sanders replied. “That’s
the job of the Department of Justice, and something they should
certainly look at.”

“I think if there’s ever a moment where we feel someone has
broken the law, particularly if they’re the head of the FBI, I
think that’s something that certainly should be looked at,”
Sanders added.

Asked for comment, a White House official told Business
Insider that Sanders was simply referring questions
about the legality of Comey’s actions to the DOJ,
and 
that “we don’t know” if the information in the
memo Comey gave to his friend was classified (the friend, Daniel
Richman, has insisted it
wasn’t
.) 

“[Sarah] wasn’t drawing a conclusion,” the official said.
“She was talking about the president’s decision to end Comey’s
employment with the FBI…the legality is something for others to
sort out.” 

The official said that Sanders’ references to Comey’s
“false testimony” had to do with his remarks about Hillary
Clinton’s emails that he had to correct
later
. But they demurred when asked whether the White
House believes Comey lied about his specific interactions
with the president.


sarah huckabee sanders
White
House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Sanders’ accusations prompted backlash from legal experts and
former Justice Department officials who said her remarks amounted
to “slander” and represented an “inappropriate” politicization of
the DOJ.

“What an an absolutely inappropriate thing for her to say.
A total politicization of law enforcement by the WH,” said former DOJ
spokesman Matthew Miller
, who served under President Barack
Obama.

“Comey’s memos weren’t classified, so no law violated in
leaking them,” Miller added. “Sanders is suggesting DOJ pursue
political retaliation, plain & simple.”

Ben Wittes, a friend of Comey and the editor-in-chief of
Lawfare, a blog dedicated to national security issues, told
Business Insider on Tuesday that “Jim

 Comey
would not have mishandled classified information.”

“In a battle between Comey and the president over any
matter of credibility, I would think the question answers
itself as to which one I believe,” Wittes said. “And I can’t
imagine that Jim is spending any time worried about any
investigation of his conduct, whereas I think the president is
clearly very concerned about investigations of his
conduct.”

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is examining whether Trump
obstructed justice in firing Comey
, who was leading the probe
into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials
during the election. 

Trump’s legal team reportedly attacked Comey’s credibility
in a memo sent to Mueller’s team pushing back on the obstruction
accusations — attacks that Sanders seems to be
carrying over into the White House briefing
room. 
 

“The fact that [Sanders]
 keeps
misstating the law isn’t funny,” tweeted former federal
prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “It’s part of a calculated attack on
a man with a career in law enforcement.”

Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had
been irked by Trump’s frequent overtures, ranging from phone
calls to dinners to hugs. He told Wittes, who wrote about the
encounters
 earlier this year, that he felt the need to
shield the Russia investigation from White House pressure.


robert mueller
Robert
Mueller.

Thomson
Reuters


Trump has denied ever acting inappropriately, leading to
suggestions from the White House that Comey lied under oath
during his congressional testimony. 

But Wittes — who emphasized that he was speaking only for
himself, and not on Comey’s behalf — insisted that “everything
Jim told me at the time is consistent with the way he described
it subsequently in his testimony.”

“Being the president of the United States is not a license to
slander people,” Wittes added. “It is the stuff of
banana republics … beyond that, people in glass houses
shouldn’t throw stones at brick houses. Trump lies
serially. 
Jim has surely made some mistakes in
his life, but he is a thoroughly decent and honorable
person.”

It is not the first time the White House has sought to
project a degree of control
over the DOJ. Trump has
publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for
recusing himself from the Russia probe, and former White House
communications director Anthony Scaramucci suggested to a reporter
that he had asked
the FBI to investigate his West Wing
rivals.

Trump’s attacks on DOJ officials have extended to Twitter,
where he has repeatedly questioned the credibility of Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting FBI Director Andrew
McCabe, and Mueller.

“President Trump’s actions appear aimed at destroying the
fundamental independence of the Justice Department,” Sally Yates,
the former acting Attorney General fired by Trump in January,
wrote in The New
York Times
 in July.

She added: “All the while, he’s ripping the blindfold off
Lady Justice and attempting to turn the department into a sword
to seek vengeance against his perceived enemies and a shield to
protect himself and his allies.”

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