Trump: Russia probe totally discredited

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump stepped up his offensive yesterday against special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian election meddling, declaring it “totally discredited”, following the release of a watchdog report documenting failings by the FBI.

The long-awaited report faulted the FBI and its then director James Comey over the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation in 2016 – and concluded that two agents working under Mr Comey showed a “willingness to take official action to impact” Mr Trump‘s election chances.

Mr Trump seized on the findings of the Justice Department Inspector-General, claiming the report provides evidence of deep bias against him at the FBI, and “exonerates” him from claims of collusion with Moscow and obstruction of justice.

“I did nothing wrong, there was no obstruction. The IG report yesterday went a long way to show that and I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited,” Mr Trump told journalists at the White House yesterday.

Mr Trump has repeatedly assailed the Russia probe as a politically-motivated “witch hunt”.

Earlier, he retweeted Fox & Friends quoting a contributor saying: “Anything Mueller is doing with his investigation is tainted by the anti-Trump FBI agent.”

Mr Trump also took aim at Mr Comey – who he fired in May last year and whose reputation he has since sought to tarnish in the expectation that he could be a witness against him in the encroaching Russia investigation.

“The IG Report is a total disaster for Comey, his minions and sadly, the FBI. Comey will now officially go down as the worst leader, by far, in the history of the FBI. I did a great service to the people in firing him,” Mr Trump tweeted.

The internal report, released on Thursday, reviewed one of the most controversial chapters of the 2016 election battle between the Republican Mr Trump and his Democratic rival Mrs Clinton.

It found Mr Comey was “insubordinate” and guilty of a “serious error of judgment” in how he handled the e-mail probe.

Even so, it found no fault in the decision announced by Mr Comey on July 5, 2016 that Mrs Clinton should not face prosecution for placing classified materials on her personal e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

In the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Comey announced that Mrs Clinton would not be prosecuted – a statement that would have normally been handled by the attorney-general and drew heavy criticism.

But 12 days before the Nov 8 election, Mr Comey reopened the investigation, after new evidence surfaced – a move that may have contributed to her defeat. Then he closed it again after the evidence proved to be inconsequential.

The report also left lingering suspicions of bias on the part of FBI investigators, citing text messages between two, Mr Peter Strzok and Ms Lisa Page, who worked on both the Clinton and Russia investigations and who were having an affair during that period.

During the 2016 campaign, Ms Page asked Mr Strzok: “(Trump‘s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

“No. No he won‘t. We‘ll stop it,” Mr Strzok replied.

The 500-page report said that there was no evidence that either ever acted on their sentiments, but assailed both for “extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism”.

The White House immediately seized upon that aspect of the report, saying it “reaffirms the President‘s suspicions about Mr Comey‘s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI”.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE