Trump, defending himself after Flynn guilty plea, says FBI is in `tatters'

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WASHINGTON — As the FBI's Russia investigation draws closer to him, President Donald Trump on Sunday unleashed an extraordinary assault on the nation's premier law enforcement agency, calling it a biased institution whose reputation for fairness was "in tatters."

In a series of early-morning tweets, Trump said the FBI's standing was now the "worst in history."

The attack was one of the harshest in a generation on an independent agency that two days earlier had helped secure a guilty plea and a pledge of cooperation from the president's first national security adviser.

Current and former FBI officials, historians and lawmakers rebuked the president over his efforts to undermine the FBI's credibility as it investigates whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election. A president who has positioned himself as devoted to law and order is now in a public dispute with the country's top law enforcement agents.

Thomas O'Connor, president of the association representing FBI agents, defended their integrity in a statement. "FBI agents are dedicated to their mission," he said, asserting that they demonstrated "unwavering integrity and professionalism" on the job. "Suggesting otherwise is simply false," he added.

On Friday, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, admitted that he had lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. As part of the bureau's inquiry, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is believed to be examining whether Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey, the FBI director, who was overseeing the inquiry. Comey has said Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn.

But on Sunday, the president condemned Comey as a liar, saying that "I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn" and that Comey had harmed the bureau and its employees. He also accused the bureau's agents of spending years pursing a "phony and dishonest" investigation into the email server of his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the frenzied nature of the president's tweets suggested that he knew that Mueller was building an obstruction of justice case against him.

"I see it in the hyperfrenetic attitude of the White House, the comments every day, the continual tweets," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

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