President Trump Had Harsh Words For The FBI

Dec 15, 2017
Originally published on December 15, 2017 6:16 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

While congressional Republicans worked to secure enough votes for their tax legislation, President Trump took a short trip this morning down to Quantico, Va. He was headed to a graduation ceremony at the FBI training center. And considering that, he made some surprising remarks before boarding Marine One.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, it's a shame what's happened with the FBI. But we're going to rebuild the FBI. It'll be bigger and better than ever.

SIEGEL: And with us to talk more about this uneasy relationship is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: We just heard a small clip of that. But what more did President Trump have to say about the FBI today?

JOHNSON: Well, the president said what happened at the FBI is very sad. He seemed to be referring to text messages the Justice Department released to Congress this week. In those messages, a senior FBI agent referred to candidate Donald Trump as an idiot and made assorted, other political statements involving Republicans and Democrats. And Trump said that made a lot of people angry. And he said he - in contrast, the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the FBI's handling of that was rigged in Hillary Clinton's favor. So some harsh words today.

SIEGEL: Now, the backdrop for all of this, of course, is the Justice Department's special counsel's probe into Russian interference in last year's presidential election. I take it that Trump defended himself again today on that score.

JOHNSON: Yeah. He said that there was absolutely no collusion with Russia. He said he had no phone calls with Russia. He claims he has nothing to do with Russia. And, meanwhile, he says the Justice Department is spending millions of dollars on this investigation, which he calls a Democratic hoax, an excuse for losing the election. Now, it's worth pointing out some of this criticism accelerated after special counsel Robert Mueller secured the guilty plea of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, earlier this month.

SIEGEL: The president also spoke this morning about Michael Flynn and his legal fate. Let's listen.

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TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see. I can say this. When you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.

SIEGEL: Yet is the key word there, Carrie. Is a pardon for Michael Flynn really in the cards?

JOHNSON: Well, after the president's remarks White House lawyer Ty Cobb told reporters there is no consideration at the White House of a pardon for Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn's lawyers are silent on this question. Really, who knows? Remember Trump has already pardoned one of his allies this year, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And court documents suggest Mike Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel on the Russia investigation. Given Flynn's military service, his otherwise clean record, he might not end up serving any time anyway. And, also, Mike Flynn's guilty plea appears to have insulated his son Michael G. Flynn from any criminal culpability. So there are reasons to think he might not want to unwind that deal.

SIEGEL: All this, and I think he's still on the ground at the White House in the story you're telling.

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SIEGEL: What happened after the helicopter landed at the FBI? What did he have to say there?

JOHNSON: Well, Robert, it was somewhat less newsy. The president mostly did a retread of his campaign stump speech last year. He said no one's more loyal to local law enforcement than Donald Trump. He's 100 percent in their corner. He thanked these police families for their service. In an offhand way, he thanked the FBI for hosting him. The body language at the event was a little awkward, Robert, because the president was sitting next to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he's criticized, and FBI Director Chris Wray. But at the end, there were handshakes all around.

SIEGEL: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.