Former FBI director James Comey blasts president Donald Trump as unethical and “untethered to truth” and calls his leadership of the country “ego driven and about personal loyalty” in a forthcoming book.
Mr Comey reveals new details about his interactions with the president and his own decision-making in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation before the 2016 election. He casts Mr Trump as a mafia boss-like figure who sought to blur the line between law enforcement and politics and tried to pressure him personally regarding his investigation into Russian election interference.
The book adheres closely to Mr Comey’s public testimony and written statements about his contacts with the president during the early days of the administration and his growing concern about the president’s integrity. It also includes strikingly personal jabs at Mr Trump that appear sure to irritate the president.
The 6-foot-8-inch Mr Comey describes the president as shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggests came from tanning goggles. He also says he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so.”
The book, A Higher Loyalty, is to be released next week. The Associated Press purchased a copy this week.
Mr Comey also describes the president weighing whether to ask the FBI to investigate, with an eye toward debunking, a salacious allegation involving Mr Trump and Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. Mr Trump has strongly denied the allegation, and the former FBI man says that it appeared the president wanted it investigated to reassure his wife, Melania Trump.
Mr Trump fired the FBI boss in May 2017, setting off a scramble at the justice department that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Mr Mueller’s probe has expanded to include whether the president obstructed justice by firing Mr Comey, an idea the president denies.
Mr Trump has assailed the former FBI director as a “showboat” and a “liar.”
Mr Comey’s account lands at a particularly sensitive moment for the White House. Officials there describe Mr Trump as enraged over a recent FBI raid of his personal lawyer’s home and office, raising the prospect that he could fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr Mueller, or try to shut down the probe on his own.
The Republican National Committee is poised to lead the pushback effort against Mr Comey, who is set to do a series of interviews to promote the book, by launching a website and supplying surrogates with talking points that question the former director’s credibility.
Mr Trump has said he fired Comey because of his handling of the FBI”s investigation into Mrs Clinton’s email practices. Mr Trump used the investigation as a cudgel in the campaign and repeatedly said his opponent should be jailed for using a personal email system while serving as secretary of state. Democrats, on the other hand, have accused Mr Comey of politicising the investigation, and Mrs Clinton herself has said it hurt her election prospects.
Mr Comey writes that he regrets his approach and some of the wording he used in his July 2016 press conference in which he announced the decision not to prosecute Mrs Clinton. But he says he believes he did the right thing by going before the cameras and making his statement, noting that the justice department had done so in other high profile cases.
Every person on the investigative team, Mr Comey writes, found that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs Clinton and that the FBI didn’t find that she lied under its questioning.
He also reveals new details about how the government had unverified classified information that he believes could have been used to cast doubt on attorney general Loretta Lynch’s independence in the Clinton probe. While Mr Comey does not outline the details of the information — and says he didn’t see indications of Ms Lynch inappropriately influencing the investigation — he says it worried him that the material could be used to attack the integrity of the probe and the FBI’s independence.
Mr Comey’s book will be heavily scrutinised by the president’s legal team looking for any inconsistencies between it and his public testimony, under oath, before Congress. They will be looking to impeach Mr Comey’s credibility as a key witness in the special counsel’s obstruction investigation, which the president has cast as a political motivated witch hunt.
The former FBI director provides new details of his firing. He writes that then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — now Mr Trump’s chief of staff — offered to quit out of disgust at how Mr Comey was dismissed. Mr Kelly has been increasingly marginalised in the White House and the president has mused to confidants about firing him.
Mr Comey also writes extensively about his first meeting with the president-elect after the election, a briefing in January 2017 at Trump Tower in New York City. Others in the meeting included vice president Mike Pence, Mr Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer. Mr Comey was also joined by NSA director Mike Rogers, CIA director John Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper.
After Mr Clapper briefed the team on the intelligence community’s findings of Russian election interference, Comey said he was taken aback by what the Trump team didn’t ask.
“They were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be,” Mr Comey writes. Instead, they launched into a strategy session about how to “spin what we’d just told them” for the public.