A Secret Mission, a Code Name and Anxiety: Inside the Early Days of the F.B.I.’s Trump Investigation

Abounding Criticism

Looking back, some inside the F.B.I. and the Justice Department say that Mr. Comey should have seen the political storm coming and better sheltered the bureau. They question why he consolidated the Clinton and Trump investigations at headquarters, rather than in a field office. And they say he should not have relied on the same team for both cases. That put a bull’s-eye on the heart of the F.B.I. Any misstep in either investigation made both cases, and the entire bureau, vulnerable to criticism.

And there were missteps. Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, was cited by internal investigators for dishonesty about his conversations with reporters about Mrs. Clinton. That gave ammunition for Mr. Trump’s claims that the F.B.I. cannot be trusted. And Mr. Strzok and Lisa Page, an F.B.I. lawyer, exchanged texts criticizing Mr. Trump, allowing the president to point to evidence of bias when they became public.

The messages were unsparing. They questioned Mr. Trump’s intelligence, believed he promoted intolerance and feared he would damage the bureau.

The inspector general’s upcoming report is expected to criticize those messages for giving the appearance of bias. It is not clear, however, whether inspectors found evidence supporting Mr. Trump’s assertion that agents tried to protect Mrs. Clinton, a claim the F.B.I. has adamantly denied.

Mr. Rubio, who has reviewed many of the texts and case files, said he saw no signs that the F.B.I. wanted to undermine Mr. Trump. “There might have been individual agents that had views that, in hindsight, have been problematic for those agents,” Mr. Rubio said. “But whether that was a systemic effort, I’ve seen no evidence of it.”

Mr. Trump’s daily Twitter posts, though, offer sound-bite-sized accusations — witch hunt, hoax, deep state, rigged system — that fan the flames of conspiracy. Capitol Hill allies reliably echo those comments.

“It’s like the deep state all got together to try to orchestrate a palace coup,” Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said in January on Fox Business Network.

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