Trump Lied About Terror Claims, James Comey's Friend Alleges in Justice Department Lawsuit

President Donald Trump speaks during a joint session of Congress on February 28. Benjamin Wittes, editor of the blog Lawfare and a confidant of former FBI Director James Comey, is challenging a claim Trump made during that speech. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Updated | President Donald Trump was not telling the truth when he said most terrorists who struck the United States came from abroad, according to a new lawsuit by Benjamin Wittes, a friend of former FBI Director James Comey.

Wittes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the co-founder and editor in chief of Lawfare, a national security blog that has gained attention since the November election. The lawsuit, which Wittes filed on August 11 and announced the next day, challenges a claim Trump made in February before a joint session of Congress, when the president said, "According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country." Comey is not named in the lawsuit or involved in the lawsuit.

Related: Comey Tried To Hide In White House Curtains

Lawfare investigated the terrorism claim and has said it is inaccurate. "I not only believe that the White House made up 'alternative facts' about the substance of this matter in a presidential address to a joint session of Congress," Wittes wrote in April. "I don't believe that the National Security Division of the Justice Department provided any data or analysis to the White House that could reasonably be read to support the president's claim. In other words, I believe the president was lying not merely about the underlying facts but also about his own Justice Department."

On Saturday, Wittes wrote in a blog post that he had filed a Freedom of Information Act request months ago for communications between the Justice Department and the White House about Trump's remark. Because he had not heard back about the request, he filed the lawsuit, alleging a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Before Trump fired Comey on May 9, Wittes was known among journalists as a friend of the FBI director. About a week after the firing, Wittes drew attention after telling The New York Times that Comey had wanted to maintain a distance from Trump, once even trying to blend in with the curtains so that the president would not call him out. On June 8, when Comey testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he had given a memo about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to a friend to pass along to the press, referring to Columbia University professor Daniel Richman, a senator on the panel responded, "Mr. Wittes?"

Wittes has gained notoriety not only as a confidant of Comey but also as a staunch critic of Trump. He perhaps became best known among followers—and at least one opponent—for tweeting "tick tick tick" when the Trump administration seemed to be under fire. Traffic to the Lawfare website is 600 percent higher than it was in July 2016, New York magazine's Simon van Zuylen-Wood wrote in a profile of Wittes in July. (Newsweek once published an article by Wittes, in 2010.)

The lawsuit, filed in United States district court in Washington, D.C., also names the Office of Management and Budget as a defendant. A spokesperson for that office was not immediately available to comment on Monday, and a Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. As of Monday morning, neither defendant appeared to have assigned a lawyer to the case.

This article has been updated to include additional information about the relationship between former FBI Director James Comey and Benjamin Wittes, and to clarify that Comey is not involved in Wittes's lawsuit. It was also updated with a response from a Department of Justice spokesperson.