Saturday, July 21, 2018
Politics

Comey asks Justice Department to reject Trump's wiretapping claim (w/video)

WASHINGTON — FBI director James Comey asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Donald Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Trump's phones, senior U.S. officials said Sunday. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Comey, who made the request Saturday after Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the FBI broke the law, said the officials, who asked not to be named, according to the New York Times.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment. Sarah Isgur Flores, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also declined to comment.

A statement by the Justice Department or Comey refuting Trump's allegations would be a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation's top law enforcement officials in the position of questioning the truthfulness of the government's top leader. The situation underscores the high stakes of what the president and his aides have set out by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Trump's administration.

The White House showed no indication that it would back down from Trump's claims. On Sunday, the president demanded a congressional inquiry into whether Obama had abused the power of federal law enforcement agencies before the 2016 presidential election. In a statement from his spokesman, Trump called "reports" about the wiretapping "very troubling" and said that Congress should examine them as part of its investigations into Russia's meddling in the election.

Along with concerns about the potential attacks on the bureau's credibility, senior FBI officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public's expectations that federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia's efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

One problem Comey has faced is that there are few senior politically appointed officials at the Justice Department who can make the decision to release a statement, the officials said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself Thursday from all matters related to the federal investigation into connections among Trump, his associates and Russia.

Comey's behind-the-scenes maneuvering is certain to invite contrasts to his actions last year, when he spoke publicly about the Hillary Clinton email case and disregarded Justice Department entreaties not to.

In his demand for a congressional inquiry, the president, through press secretary Sean Spicer, issued a statement Sunday that said, "President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016."

A spokesman for Obama and his former aides have called the accusation by Trump completely false, saying that Obama never ordered any wiretapping of a U.S. citizen.

"A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice," Kevin Lewis, Obama's spokesman, said in a statement Saturday.

Trump's demand for a congressional investigation appears to be based, at least in part, on unproven claims by Breitbart News and conservative talk radio hosts that secret warrants were issued authorizing the tapping of the phones of Trump and his aides at Trump Tower in New York.

In a series of Twitter messages Saturday, the president seemed to be convinced that those claims were true. In one post, Trump said, "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!"

On Sunday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary, said the president was determined to find out what had really happened, calling it potentially the "greatest abuse of power" the country has ever seen.

"Look, I think he's going off of information that he's seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential," Sanders said on ABC's This Week program. "And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place."

Trump's demands for a congressional investigation were initially met with skepticism by lawmakers, including Republicans. Appearing on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he was "not sure what it is that he is talking about."

"I'm not sure what the genesis of that statement was," Rubio said.

Pressed to elaborate on NBC's Meet the Press, Rubio said, "I'm not going to be a part of a witch hunt, but I'm also not going to be a part of a coverup."

Also Sunday, James Clapper, the longtime director of national intelligence under Obama, said unequivocally that Trump's home and office were not wiretapped before the presidential election last year.

Clapper, who was director for more than six years before he left in January, also said he knew of no evidence that members of Trump's campaign had colluded with Russia during the election campaign and that no suggestion that they had was made in a January report on the subject.

"We did not include anything in our report that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians," he said on Meet the Press. "There was no evidence of that included in our report. We had no evidence of such collusion."

Clapper said, however, that he still agrees with that report's conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin had developed a "clear preference" for Trump and that the release of Democratic operatives' emails stolen by Russian computer hackers was part of the effort to support the Republican candidate.

Comments
Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

TAMPA — Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and other countries are beginning to push up prices and depress demand in spots around the Tampa Bay area and Florida, business executives say."We’ve definitely seen that the tariffs have increased ...
Published: 07/20/18
March column: Is Congressional District 16 more flippable? What about District 15?

March column: Is Congressional District 16 more flippable? What about District 15?

In the wake of good fundraising news for Democrat David Shapiro, who is running against Rep. Vern Buchanan in Congressional District 16, political analysts are upping their odds of Shapiro’s winning. But what about Congressional District 15, where Re...
Published: 07/20/18
Trump says he’d have no problem beating former VP Biden in 2020

Trump says he’d have no problem beating former VP Biden in 2020

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday that running against Joe Biden in 2020 would be "a dream," claiming that Barack Obama "took him out of the garbage heap" to make him his running mate in 2008.Trump was asked ...
Published: 07/19/18
At St. Pete rally, protesters call Trump’s remarks on Russia ‘treason’

At St. Pete rally, protesters call Trump’s remarks on Russia ‘treason’

ST. PETERSBURG — Linda and Jack Miller braved the humidity at Demens Landing on Wednesday night for a simple reason: "Treason," said Linda Miller, 66. The St. Petersburg couple joined more than 100 protesters toting signs, pins and megaphones...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/19/18
Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

During the summer of 2012, Cody Wilson hung around J&J, a car-repair shop run by two "goofy" guys in their late 20s. The Austin warehouse was crowded with engine blocks, car parts and Pelican boxes that never seemed to have been opened, but the 24-ye...
Published: 07/18/18
‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

WASHINGTON - For nearly five years, the young Russian political-science student was an unusual fixture at the most important events of the U.S. conservative movement.Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent,...
Published: 07/18/18
PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin made inaccurate statements to the media following their one-on-one talks in Helsinki about election meddling, global terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation.Here’s a rundown of our fact-checks.Trump:...
Published: 07/17/18
Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

JOHANNESBURG — Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday took aim at "strongman politics" in his highest-profile speech since leaving office, urging people around the world to respect human rights and other values now under threat in an imp...
Published: 07/17/18
Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Hypocrisy, thy name is Rick Scott.And, yes, I owe Shakespeare an apology.But I think Florida’s governor owes all of us an apology.This isn’t about one man’s opinion, and it isn’t about philosophical differences. This is about a politician who is publ...
Published: 07/17/18
Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

HELSINKI — Standing next to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to Trump’s benefit and seemed to accept Putin’s i...
Published: 07/16/18