On Friday, the White House wouldn’t discuss details of the president’s unscheduled, unannounced meeting with Mr. Comey in the Oval Office. But White House press secretary Josh Earnest took the unusual step of saying that Mr. Comey still has the president’s support, even though reporters hadn’t asked specifically about the FBI director’s job status.
“I would expect that Director Comey will continue to participate in all [policy] debates, and he’ll do so with the full confidence and support of the president,” Mr. Earnest said.
White House officials were said to be livid about a speech that Mr. Comey gave last week in Chicago, in which he said the increase in crime in big cities this year might be a result of police officers’ concern about getting out of their patrol cars because their interactions with people on the street could be caught on video.
It’s known as the “Ferguson effect,” a reference to the police shooting of an unarmed black teen last year in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I spoke to officers privately in one big-city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars,” Mr. Comey said. “They told me, ‘We feel like we’re under siege, and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’”
Mr. Obama has been increasingly sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and has spoken out forcefully about racial bias and the use of excessive force in police departments.
In his speech last week, Mr. Comey also appeared to dispute the administration’s view that the imprisonment of thousands of criminals in the 1980s and 1990s during a high-crime era was an example of “mass incarceration.” He said those prosecutions “didn’t happen ‘en masse.’”
“Each drug dealer, each mugger, each killer, and each felon with a gun had his own lawyer, his own case, his own time before judge and jury, his own sentencing and, in many cases, an appeal or other post-sentencing review,” Mr. Comey said. “There were thousands and thousands of those individual cases, but to speak of ‘mass incarceration’ I believe is confusing, and it distorts an important reality.”
The president is engaged in a long-running effort to ease sentencing guidelines for drug offenses and reduce the prison population in the U.S.
On Monday, he will travel to Newark, New Jersey, to continue with that campaign.
While declining to divulge details of the president’s meeting with the FBI director, Mr. Earnest said it’s important for Mr. Comey to “be involved in grappling with the difficult policy debates that we’re having in this country right now in balancing security and protection of civil liberties.”
“These are difficult issues,” Mr. Earnest said. “The president certainly appreciates the important perspective that Director Comey brings to those policy debates. But more importantly, his constructive contribution to that debate will be necessary for us to find the right policy solutions.”
Critics accused the president last month of trying to influence an ongoing FBI investigation by stating in an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS that he didn’t believe Hillary Rodham Clinton harmed national security by using a private email server as secretary of state. The FBI is investigating whether any classified information has been compromised.
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