In the two years since President Trump fired James Comey, the former director of the FBI has gone from the left’s folk hero – rewarded with a book deal for his supposed selfless public service – to someone at the epicenter of an FBI “spying” scandal that threatens to tarnish the bureau’s reputation.
Trump dismissed Comey on May 9, 2017, for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Following Comey’s ouster, his former boss Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel of the Russia investigation, which went on to find no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia -- and could not reach a conclusion on whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
Initially, Comey enjoyed relative success after losing his job, getting showered with media attention for his anti-Trump talking points. This propped up his book -- "A Higher Loyalty," published last year --- for which Comey reportedly received $2 million and which posted sales of 600,000 copies in just one week.
But Comey’s star has undoubtedly faded amid allegations that the FBI under his command not only used an unverified dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele to justify surveillance of Trump campaign official Carter Page, but also that the bureau sent an undercover investigator to meet with ex-Trump aide George Papadopoulos in 2016.
Attorney General Bill Barr alleged, in the wake of the Mueller report, that the bureau engaged in spying against Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I think spying did occur," Barr said during a hearing on Capitol Hill last month. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. … Spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
“I think spying did occur ... The question is whether it was adequately predicated. … Spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
Barr later clarified in the hearing: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred; I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all.”
Comey dismissed Barr’s comments at the time, saying he “never thought of” electronic surveillance as “spying.”
“When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance,” Comey added. “I have never thought of that as spying.”
But Comey was put on the defensive again following a recent bombshell New York Times report detailing the FBI efforts to investigate the Trump campaign.
The FBI reportedly sent a woman to meet with Papadopoulos at a bar in London during the campaign. The woman, who identified herself as Azra Turk, asked Papadopoulos point-blank if Trump was collaborating with Russians to swing the 2016 election.
Comey issued only a scant defense of the issue, telling Los Angeles radio station KNX 1070 AM that the practice was justified due to the ongoing threats from Russia.
“Really? What would you have the FBI do? We discover in the middle of June of 2016 that the Russians were engaged in a massive effort to mess with this democracy to interfere in the election,” Comey said.
“We're focused on that and at the end of July we learn that a Trump campaign adviser -- two months earlier, before any of this was public -- had talked to a Russian representative about the fact that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton and wanted to arrange to share it with the Trump campaign.”
He added: “What should the FBI do when it gets that information? It should investigate to figure out whether any Americans are hooked up with this massive interference effort. And that's what we did.”
But as Comey continues making the rounds to publicly defend his actions as FBI director -- including plans to participate in a town hall event on CNN on Thursday night -- he’s likely to face further questions and controversies amid Barr’s formation of a team to “investigate the investigators.”
A Trump administration official briefed on the matter told Fox News that Barr assembled a “team” to investigate the origins of the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
Fox News also has been told the Justice Department's inspector general (IG) was looking separately into whether Comey mishandled classified information by including a variety of sensitive matters in his private memos that include the name and code name of a confidential human source.
Fox News’ Gregg Re, Jake Gibson and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.