U.S. President Donald Trump, in a series of Sunday morning tweets from the White House, attacked his own Federal Bureau of Investigation and said he never asked then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to Washington.
The FBI’s reputation is “in Tatters – worst in History,” but the Trump administration will “bring it back to greatness,” the president declared on Twitter.
In a separate tweet on Comey’s sworn testimony before Congress that the president had asked him to stop the probe of Flynn, Trump said “Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie.”
Comey himself used Twitter to post a quote from that June testimony.
"I want the American people to know the truth: The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is, and always will be, independent," Comey wrote.
Top former Justice Department officials also defended the FBI after Trump's comments Sunday.
"You'll find integrity and honesty at FBI headquarters and not at 1600 Penn Ave right now," former Attorney General Eric Holder said, referencing the address of the White House.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the "only thing in tatters" is Trump's respect for the rule of law, and that the "men and women of the FBI deserve better."
Trump's tweets come two days after Flynn pleaded guilty in Washington to lying to FBI agents about conversations he had with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power in January.
Trump, on Sunday on the same social media platform, also attacked the FBI amid revelations that an agent, who had written emails favoring Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, was dropped from the probe after the emails were discovered.
“Now it all starts to make sense!” Trump said.
“The president should have no comment whatsoever on either of these investigations,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins on the NBC News “Meet the Press” program on Sunday. “And the only thing that he should be doing is directing all of his staff and associates to fully cooperate.”
A tweet sent out Saturday on the @realDonaldTrump account is also attracting significant scrutiny.
Trump tweeted that he “had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
That suggests the president was aware that when he fired Flynn on February 13 -- after less than a month as his national security advisor -- the president was aware the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency had lied to the FBI when agents interviewed him weeks earlier.
The president’s personal lawyer says he wrote that tweet and told the Axios news website on Sunday that it was “my mistake” that he passed along in a draft to White House social media director Dan Scavino.
“I'm out of the tweeting business,” John Dowd said with a chuckle, according to Axios. “I did not mean to break news.”
To many the tweet implies that the president is admitting obstruction of justice.
And many are questioning Dowd’s explanation of it.
“It seems as implausible as it is convenient to President Trump,” says Ned Price, who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama on the National Security Council staff.
“The idea that a lawyer would draft that – without any input from or clearance by Trump – doesn’t strike me as believable,” Price, a former CIA senior analyst and spokesperson, tells VOA. “Add that to the long list of cover-ups.”
As part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow, he is looking into whether the president obstructed justice in asking Comey to curb his investigation of Flynn and then later by firing the FBI director.
Flynn faces up to five years in prison following Friday’s guilty plea but has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.
“I do believe he will incriminate others in the administration. Otherwise, there was no reason for Bob Mueller to give Mike Flynn this kind of deal,” Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC's “This Week” television program said, adding that, “whether that will ultimately lead to the president, I simply don't know.''
Mueller is formulating a case of obstruction of justice against the president, according to the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s judiciary committee.
I think we see this in the indictments, the four indictments and pleas that have just taken place, and some of the comments that are being made. I see it in the hyper-frenetic attitude of the White House: the comments every day, the continual tweets,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“And I see it, most importantly, in what happened with the firing of Director Comey and it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation,” according to Feinsteіn. “That’s obstruction of justice.”
Flynn was one of Trump’s close confidants during last year’s presidential campaign in which the Republican nominee pulled off a stunning upset over Clinton.
Flynn, who was also previously fired by President Barack Obama as Defense Intelligence Agencydirector, gained widespread public attention at the Republican National Convention when he led chants of “Lock her up,” referring to Clinton.
Outside the Federal District Courthouse in Washington on Friday, where he entered his perjury guilty plea, Flynn was taunted with chants of “Lock him up.”