Comey says Trump 'morally unfit to be president,' possibly susceptible to Russian blackmail
Former FBI director James B. Comey said in his first televised interview since being fired that he believed Donald Trump was âmorally unfit to be president,â and it was âpossibleâ that the Russians had material which could be used to blackmail him. (Carolyn Kaster/AP) April 15 at 11:36 PM Email the author
Former FBI director James B. Comey said in his first televised interview since being fired that he believed Donald Trump was âmorally unfit to be presidentâ and that it was âpossibleâ that the Russians had material that could be used to blackmail him.
In a wide-ranging conversation with George Stephanopoulos broadcast on ABC late Sunday, Com ey took aim at Trump in no uncertain terms, comparing his administration to a mafia family, likening his presidency to a forest fire and asserting there was evidence that he had committed a crime.
He said that he would not favor impeaching Trump to remove him from office, because that âwould let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe theyâre duty-bound to do directlyâ â" meaning through elections. But he made clear his view of whether Trump was fit to hold the position.
âThis president does not reflect the values of this country,â Comey said.
The interview airs just days before Comey is set to release a new book and embark on a media tour to promote it. Much of what Comey said to Stephanopoulos mirrors what he wrote, although his televised, extemporaneous comments are sure to attract the attention of the president, who is an avid TV viewer.
[In his new book, James Comey calls for âethical lea dership.â But does he live up to it?]
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted criticism of Comey, denying some of Comeyâs allegations and alleging that Comey revealed classified information and lied to Congress.
âSlippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!â Trump wrote.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote on Twitter after the interview aired that Comey âhas no credibilityâ and Trump was right to fire him from the FBI.
âComeyâs PR tour reaffirms that his true higher loyalty is to himself,â McDaniel wrote. âThe only thing worse than his history of misconduct is his willingness to say anything to sell books.â
The Washington Post was allowed to review a complete transcript of the Comey interview, which lasted nearly five hours.
As he did in his book, Comey detailed in the interview Trumpâs fixati on on unproven allegations that he watched prostitutes urinate on one another in a Moscow hotel in 2013, asserting that Trump at one point said he was contemplating ordering Comey to investigate and disprove the incident because he did not want âeven a 1 percent chanceâ that his wife, first lady Melania Trump, would believe it happened.
Comey said that struck him as odd. âI remember thinking, âHow could your wife think thereâs a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?â â he said, adding that his assessment was itâs possible Trump is guilty of the accusation.
âI honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I donât know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,â Comey said. âItâs possible, but I donât know.â
Comey said it was possible, too, that the Russians might have material that could be used to blackmai l Trump.
âDo you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?â Stephanopoulos asked.
âI think itâs possible. I donât know. These are more words I never thought Iâd utter about a president of the United States, but itâs possible,â Comey responded.
Comey described in great detail several conversations he had with Trump, telling StephanoÂpoulos of how the president asked for his loyalty and how that interaction and others reminded him of his time as a prosecutor in New York pursuing mob families, for whom loyalty to the boss and the organization were the only values that mattered.
âItâs the family, the family, the family, the family,â Comey said.
Trump has denied asking for Comeyâs loyalty.
Comey offered a blunt assessment of a conversation with Trump on Feb. 14, 2017, during which Comey maintains the president said of an investigation the FBI was conducting into former national security adviser Michael Flynn , âI hope you can let it go.â Trump disputes Comeyâs account.
âWith that direction, was President Trump obstructing justice?â Stephanopoulos asked.
âPossibly,â Comey responded. âI mean, itâs certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. That something really important just happened and that I was a little â" another one of those Âoutta-body experiences, like, âReally? The president just kicked out the attorney general to ask me to drop a criminal investigation.â Wow, the world continues to go crazy.â
Comey even took aim at Trumpâs personal appearance, remarking how his âtie was too long, as it always isâ and that his face âlooked slightly orange up close with small white â" half moons under his eyes, which I assume are from tanning goggles.â
The former FBI boss acknowledged he had grave misgivings about the Trump presidency even before it began.
In a meeting with President Barack Obama in the last days of his administration, Comey says he told the president: âI dread the next four years. But in many ways, I feel great pressure to stay to try and protect the institution I lead.â
While Trump bore the brunt of his criticism, Comey also took aim at others â" including Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, whom Trump has been contemplating removing from his post.
Comey said Rosenstein had âacted dishonorablyâ in authoring a memo lambasting Comeyâs handling of the investigation into Hillary Clintonâs use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Trump cited the memo in firing Comey, and Comey said he came to believe Rosenstein was âpart of the family now. I canât trust him.â
He later said, though, that he did not believe Rosenstein would fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if ordered by Trump to do so, and that Rosenstein âhas an opportunity in overseeing Bob Mueller to restore some of his professional reputation. â
As he has in the past, Comey offered a vigorous defense of his handling of the Clinton email investigation.
Parts of the interview are likely to revive the fury of Clinton supporters who think he cost her the presidency by reopening the email investigation less than two weeks before the election.
When Stephanopoulos asked him if the decision was âinfluenced by your assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win,â Comey replied: âIt must have been. I donât remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. âCause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump.â
He also said he was sorry for how he handled the first announcement in July 2016 that he was closing the Clinton email probe without seeking any charges. He says he agrees now with the criticism that his remarks muddied important issues.
âIâm sorry that I caused all kinds of confusion and pain with the way I described her c onduct that led people into all kinds of side roads,â Comey said.
He also spoke at length about his complicated relationship with former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch. Previously, Comeyâs defenders have argued that a Russian intelligence document the FBI received in early 2016 suggesting Lynch would protect Clinton in some fashion from the email probe meant that he had to cut her out of the final decision-making process.
But The Washington Post has reported that many FBI officials viewed the allegation against Lynch as dubious at best â" and possibly one of Russiaâs very first disinformation efforts during the 2016 campaign.
Comey said he didnât believe the allegation, but feared that if it ever came out, it would destroy the credibility of the Justice Department and the FBI.
âThere was material that I knew someday, when itâs declassified, and I thought that would be decades in the future, would cause historians to wonder, âHmm, was th ere some strange business goinâ on there? Was Loretta Lynch somehow carrying water for the campaign and controlling what the FBI did?âââ
So partly for that reason, he said, Comey decided to announce on his own his recommendation that no charges be filed in the Clinton case.
Throughout the interview, Comey stressed the importance of telling the truth, a theme in his book. He described being initially reluctant to prosecute Martha Stewart for lying to investigators, but then recalled a case when he was a federal prosecutor in Richmond and had charged a minister with the same thing.
âAnd there once was a day when people were afraid of goinâ to hell if they took an oath in the name of God and violated it. Weâve drifted away from that day. And so in its place has to be a fear that if you lie and the government can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, they will prosecute you in order to send a message to all the others who might be called upon to give ev idence,â Comey said. âWe must prosecute people who lie in the middle of an investigation.â
[Inspector general report faults Andrew McCabe for unauthorized disclosure of information, misleading investigators]
The comments come a day after the Justice Department inspector general released a report accusing Andrew McCabe, Comeyâs former deputy, of lying repeatedly as they investigated a media disclosure he had authorized. The inspector general says McCabe even lied to Comey, though McCabe disputes Comeyâs account.
After he was fired, Comey said, Trump issued an order that he was not to be allowed back in the FBI building, even to retrieve his belongings. His firing came as Comey was visiting the FBI office in Los Angeles, and for a brief moment it wasnât even clear if he would be allowed to ride on the government plane back to Washington.
When he did get on the plane, he decided to open a bottle of wine. âI drank red wine from a paper cup and just looked out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home,â he said.Source: Google News