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'Straight-shooting' thorn in Trump's side

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FBI director James Comey rejects US president's wiretapping allegation, reveals investigation into alleged Russian election interference

WASHINGTON: Eight months ago, Mr James Comey hampered Mrs Hillary Clinton's White House bid with a damning assessment of her e-mail practices.

On Monday, the powerful Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief lobbed another bombshell into the world of US politics - this time directed at the sitting president, Mr Donald Trump.

In a high-stakes congressional hearing that is followed by millions in America and around the world, Mr Comey flatly rejected Mr Trump's explosive claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor Barack Obama.

And Mr Comey did this without a blink, telling lawmakers neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had evidence to support such an allegation.

Intensely concentrating, with a furrowed brow, the 2m-tall Comey took the heat during a marathon first public hearing on the issue of Russian meddling in last year's election and Mr Trump's unsubstantiated allegation of wiretapping.

The 56-year-old coolly confirmed for the first time that his agency is investigating Russia's alleged election interference and Moscow's possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

But the FBI chief, who has been in his post since September 2013, also knows his words carry weight.

The Democrat Clinton learnt that the hard way, when Mr Comey called a surprise press conference last July to deliver a dressing-down over her use of a private e-mail server that reverberated to the November polls.

Mr Comey angered Republicans by deciding not to press charges against the former secretary of state.

But Mrs Clinton still believes that Mr Comey's public berating, followed by a last-minute intervention resurrecting the controversy in October, cost her the election.


When Mr Trump kept the Obama appointee in his job, critics saw it as a tacit reward for the part he played in damaging Mrs Clinton's chances.

But the FBI chief now increasingly looks to be a thorn in the President's side.

Comey has now set his sights on the issue of Russian election meddling, which has stalked Mr Trump's young presidency.

Mr Comey is known for his tenacity.

He locked horns with Silicon Valley as he tried to convince Apple to unlock a smartphone used by the perpetrator of a 2015 terror attack in California. The FBI's own experts ended up breaking into the device.

The Clinton investigation - which saw Mr Comey assailed on all sides - did much to cement his reputation as a straight shooter, as well as thrust him into the public eye.

But he has been in political and legal circles at the highest level for three decades, giving him the confidence to challenge the US Justice Department, even the White House.

In the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Mr Comey raised hackles by supporting cops who were wary of fulfilling their duties, for fear of their actions being caught on video.

He cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in New York and the Washington area.

In 2003, the father-of-five became deputy attorney general.

The next year, he faced one of his toughest showdowns, which confirmed his reputation for being independent and unafraid.

Mr Comey had become acting attorney general due to the illness of his boss John Ashcroft.

At Mr Ashcroft's bedside, the presidential counsel to Mr George W Bush, Mr Alberto Gonzales, tried to persuade him to reauthorise a controversial warrantless eavesdropping programme.

Mr Comey, who was against extending the programme, later revealed the incident to senators, unleashing a political firestorm. - AFP

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