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Donald Trump lashed out at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a series of pre-dawn tweets on Sunday, as pundits debated whether an earlier online missive by the president pointed to potential obstruction of justice.
Mr Trump said the bureau’s reputation was “in tatters” two days after Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and confirmed he was co-operating with a special counsel probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
Mr Trump denied that he had asked James Comey, former FBI director, to stop an FBI investigation into Mr Flynn. This contradicted Mr Comey’s own account of events, which he gave under oath to Congress this year.
“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” Mr Trump tweeted.
“After years of Comey, with the phoney and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters — worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness,” the president wrote in a follow-up tweet.
Mr Flynn’s decision to co-operate with investigators has put further pressure on Mr Trump’s inner circle over the probe into alleged collusion between the Republican presidential campaign and Russian officials. A charge sheet from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller last week suggested that Mr Flynn had been acting under the recommendations of more senior members of the transition team when he communicated with Russia’s ambassador to Washington last year.
On Saturday, Mr Trump had said the White House was “very happy”, because the offence sheet against Mr Flynn had shown “no [evidence of] collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Shortly afterward, the president wrote that he had fired Mr Flynn because his national security adviser had lied to the vice-president and the FBI. This prompted legal experts and politicians to warn that Mr Trump could be opening himself up to obstruction of justice charges if he knew that Mr Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired Mr Comey.
In the hours after Mr Trump’s tweet was first posted, the president’s personal lawyer John Dowd took credit for the wording.
However, Sen Lindsey Graham, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI, said Mr Trump was tweeting “at [his] own peril”.
“I would just say this, Mr President. There is an ongoing criminal investigation . . . I’d be careful if I were you, Mr President.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, echoed his concerns.
“I think, what we’re beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice. 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,” she told NBC’s Meet The Press.
“I see it in the hyper-frenetic attitude of the White House: the comments every day, the continual tweets. 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. That’s obstruction of justice.”
In a separate tweet on Sunday, Mr Trump also seized on reports that an agent working for Mr Mueller had been fired from the special counsel investigation this summer after it emerged that the agent had sent anti-Trump text messages. That agent, according to US news reports, had also been involved in the FBI’s investigation into Mrs Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“Report: ‘ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE’ Now it all starts to make sense!” Mr Trump tweeted.