By CHAD DAY and JONATHAN LEMIRE,
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
Comey reveals new details about his interactions with Trump and his own decision-making in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation before the 2016 election. He casts Trump as a mafia boss-like figure who sought to blur the line between law enforcement and politics and tried to pressure him regarding his investigation into Russian election interference.
The book adheres closely to 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 Trump that appear likely to irritate the president.
The 6-foot-8 Comey describes Trump 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.
Trump fired Comey 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. Mueller’s probe has expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, an idea the president denies. Trump has assailed Comey as a “showboat” and a “liar.”
Comey’s account lands at a particularly sensitive moment for Trump and the White House. Officials there describe 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 Mueller, or try to shut down the probe on his own. The Republican National Committee is poised to lead the pushback effort against 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.
Trump has said he fired Comey because of his handling of the FBI’s investigation into his Clinton’s email practices. Trump used the investigation as a cudgel in the campaign and repeatedly said Clinton should be jailed for using a personal email system while serving as secretary of state. Democrats, on the other hand, have accused Comey of politicizing the investigation, and Clinton herself has said it hurt her election prospects.
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 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, Comey writes, found that there was no prosecutable case against Clinton and that the FBI didn’t find that she lied under its questioning.
He also reveals for the first time that the U.S. 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 Comey does not outline the details of the information — and says he didn’t see indications of 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.
Comey’s book will be heavily scrutinized 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 Comey’s credibility as a key witness in Mueller’s obstruction investigation, which the president has cast as a political motivated witch hunt.
He provides new details of his firing. He writes that then-Homeland Security secretary John Kelly — now Trump’s chief of staff — offered to quit out of a sense of disgust as to how Comey was dismissed, as well as his first encounter with Trump, a January 2017 briefing at Trump Tower in New York City. Kelly has been increasingly marginalized in the White House and the president has mused to confidantes about firing the chief of staff.
Comey also writes extensively about his first meeting with Trump after his election. Others in the meeting included Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer. Comey was also joined by NSA Director Mike Rogers, CIA Director John Brennan and DNI Director James Clapper.
After 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,” Comey writes. Instead, he writes, they launched into a strategy session about how to “spin what we’d just told them” for the public.
Lemire reported from New York.