The aggressive posture of the FBI under Director James Comey is becoming a political problem for the White House.
The FBI’s demand that Apple help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers has outraged Silicon Valley, a significant source of political support for President Obama and Democrats.
Comey, meanwhile, has stirred tensions by linking rising violent crime rates to the Black Lives Matter movement’s focus on police violence and by warning about “gaps” in the screening process for Syrian refugees.
Then there’s the biggest issue of all: the FBI’s investigation into the private email server used by Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of State and the leading contender to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
A decision by the FBI to charge Clinton or her top aides for mishandling classified information would be a shock to the political system.
In these cases and more, Comey — a Republican who donated in 2012 to Mitt Romney — has proved he is “not attached to the strings of the White House,” said Ron Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division and a critic of Obama’s law enforcement strategies.
Publicly, administration officials have not betrayed any worry about the Clinton probe. They have also downplayed any differences of opinion on Apple.
But former officials say the FBI’s moves are clearly ruffling feathers within the administration.