The public spat unfolding between the White House and the FBI is 'truly unprecedented'



The widening divide between the executive branch and the FBI, stemming from President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phones, is "truly unprecedented" and "unusual, to say the least," former Department of Justice officials told Business Insider on Tuesday.

FBI Director James Comey was reportedly so "incredulous" over Trump's explosive accusation on Saturday that he asked the Department of Justice to release a public statement rebuking Trump's claim.

The Department of Justice has yet to release such a statement, however, which has "frustrated" Comey, CNN reported earlier this week. But former DOJ and FBI officials say the fact that Comey went as far as to ask the DOJ to publicly contradict the president is highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

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James Comey through the years
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James Comey through the years
FBI Director James Comey waits before testifying at a House Intelligence Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey speaks at a conference at the Bloomberg News Bureau in Washington DC June 14, 2004. (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama announces James Comey (L), a Republican who served in the Bush Justice Department, as his choice to replace Robert Mueller as the next FBI director, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: US Deputy Attorney General James Comey (L) and FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Gary Bald take questions 05 August, 2004, at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, after announcing that two men from Albany, New York, were arrested charging each with concealing material support for terrorism and participating in a money laundering conspiracy. Mosque Imam Yassin Aref, 34, and mosque founder Mohammed Hoosain, 49, were arrested following a raid on an Albany mosque late 04 August. Officials said the two men had agreed to launder money to help a presumed terrorist, actually an undercover FBI agent, buy a shoulder-fired missile. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: James Comey (L) FBI Director nominee walks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (R) to a ceremony annoucing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden at the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, would replace Mueller. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrives to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FBI Director James Comey, right, talks to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, left, during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Photo: Rodrigo Garcia/NurPhoto (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of a visit to the Denver FBI Field Office on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Director Comey's visit to the Denver FBI Field Office is part of his plan to visit all FBI Field Offices in his first year as director. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The shadow of FBI Director James Comey is seen as he addresses the audience during the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) annual meeting at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey adjusts his tie before testifying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: FBI Director James Comey arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a classified briefing on Russia for all members of the House of Representatives January 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The internal Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department announced yesterday that it is conducting a review on the handling of FBI and DOJ's investigation into the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server case. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L-R) arrive to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence heads testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JULY 8: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey (L) announces indictment of the former Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, while FBI Director Robert Mueller listens July 8, 2004 in Washington DC. Lay was indicted on 11 counts, including securities and wire fraud and false and misleading statements surrounding the collapse of the energy giant. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
James Brien Comey, Jr. (born December 14, 1960) is the seventh and current Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 31: Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey announces the arrest in Italy of alleged Russian mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov on charges that he engineered the ice-skating vote swap scandal that rocked the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov allegedly fixed the Russian skaters' victory in figure skating in exchange for throwing the gold medal to two French ice dancers. Amid worldwide outrage, the Canadian figure skaters were eventually awarded a second gold medal. , (Photo by Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: FBI Director nominee James Comey (L) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) looks on during a ceremony announcing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden of the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey is a former Justice Department official in the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 18: Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey during an interview wirth the Daily News. (Photo by Robert Rosamilio/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 08: The Honorable James Comey, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, is sworn in before delivering testimony during the House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act June 8, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Committee has heard from 30 witnesses during its 10 hearings this year, from both supporters and those with concerns over certain aspects of this anti-terrorism law. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), laughs during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: James Comey, right, President Obama's nominee as the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, meets with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: FBI Director James Comey testifies during a hearing before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee February 4, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing to examine threats to the U.S. from all around the world. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey (L) and US Attorney General Eric Holder announce a record 8.9 billion USD fine against the French bank BNP Paribas for violating international sanctions during a press conference at the US Justice Department in Washington on June 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks at the Intelligence National Security Alliance Leadership Dinner at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) sits with FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office in Washington after making comments to the media about shootings at military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 08: FBI Director James Comey speaks at a cybersecurity conference at Boston College on March 8, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Comey, delivering the keynote address to the two-day conference, did not address recent claims by President Donald Trump that former President Barack Obama ordered a a wiretap of then-candidate Trump. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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"I've never heard of a situation similar to this ever, actually," former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes told CNN on Monday. "In 30 years in the FBI, and dealing with the FBI in the eight years since retirement, I've not heard of a similar situation."

"Director Comey must have a high level of confidence in his conclusion to push back in such a public way," Thomas Dupree, Jr., a former top DOJ official who served as deputy assistant attorney general from 2007 to 2009, told Business Insider on Tuesday.

"Comey would know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether there was wiretapping of Trump or his campaign, and if he says there wasn't any, it's safe to say there wasn't," added Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice during the Obama administration.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on Monday, however, saying she didn't think Trump believed Comey's insistence that Obama never ordered the wiretapping.

"There have been similar breaches in the past (Watergate, Clinton with Louis Freeh), but it's hard to imagine ever one that has been because the president made something up out of thin air," Miller told Business Insider, referring to suggestions that Trump accused Obama of wiretapping based solely an unverified report he had read in Breitbart.

"That is truly unprecedented," he added.

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President Trump accuses Obama on Twitter of wiretapping him
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President Trump accuses Obama on Twitter of wiretapping him
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
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!
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
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Indeed, the relationship between Nixon and the FBI soured so much after then-Director J. Edgar Hoover died that historians say the resentment drove W. Mark Felt, then a high-level FBI official, to leak information to The Washington Post about Nixon's crimes under the pseudonym "Deep Throat."

Louis Freeh, who served as the director of the FBI under President Bill Clinton, had a notoriously toxic relationship with Clinton stemming from the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia.

But many experts feel that tensions between the executive branch and the intelligence community have reached new heights under Trump, who has taken to Twitter to criticize US intelligence agencies rather than complain about them in private to his staff, as Nixon and Clinton did.

Amid a flurry of bombshell reports about the intelligence community's investigation into Trump's Russia ties, the president accused it of leaking information to undermine him. He has compared the intelligence community's leaks to "Nazi Germany" and "Russia," and reports have surfaced that he wants to launch a "broad review of American intelligence agencies."

"Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia," Trump tweeted last month. "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!"

Trump chose to keep Comey on instead of replacing him, despite having criticized Comey for having "bad judgment" last summer when he decided not to recommend that charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was at the State Department.

Comey has no plans to resign in protest over Trump's latest accusation, a source told CNN, but he feels "institutionally he has to push back on this" and is prepared to be fired for it.

"Does he know of possibility there might be a confrontation and be fired by the president? Sure," the source said. "Does he worry about it? No."

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