In a virtually unprecedented move, FBI Director James Comey has reportedly asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. Since the FBI is part of the Executive Branch headed by Trump, it is a truly bizarre moment if true. If this continues, the unitary executive will become the binary executive with the White House in uneasy relations with the rest of the executive branch.
The New York Times is reporting that Comey wants a public denial of the Trump allegations. Trump created a firestorm over the weekend when he used Twitter to accuse his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping Trump Tower. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Various news outlets have noted that Breitbart just ran a story on the use or attempted use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to investigate connections to Russian banks. The story was covering allegations voiced by radio host Mark Levin. He also directly criticized Obama: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
It is extremely rare for a president to ever discuss FISA operations publicly due to their highly classified character. Moreover, the allegations raised over the weekend raised highly disturbing analogies to the Watergate period. These are not the type of allegations that should ever be made casually — or frankly through social media.
The report that Comey wants a public denial of the President represents a rather disheartening low in the relations and operations of our Executive Branch. If there is no support for the Trump allegation, officials face some troubling question of how such national security and policy issues are to be address. The President is after all the head of the Executive Branch and can gain access to any classified program or demand answers to any questions of alleged impropriety. If the allegation was made on Twitter without such an inquiry, it would be particularly disturbing.