Washington: Ousted FBI chief James Comey accused Donald Trump’s White House of lies and defamation Thursday in wounding sworn testimony that plunged his already troubled presidency deeper into peril.
During almost three hours of extraordinarily frank televised statements, Comey described himself as “stunned” by Trump’s “very disturbing” and “very concerning” behavior in several private meetings.
Detailing one-on-one talks with a sitting president — which under normal circumstances would never see the light of day — Comey said he took painstaking notes for fear Trump might “lie” about the unusual encounters.
That account painted a devastating picture of an untrustworthy president, who at best unknowingly shred the norms of office by pressing Comey on the probe into Russian election meddling, and at worst may have criminally obstructed justice.
During one White House dinner, Comey recalled that the president asked him for “loyalty” and to lay off his former national security advisor Mike Flynn — who is under criminal investigation over his Russia ties — imploring Comey to “let this go.”
Comey indicated that it was now up to a high-powered special prosecutor to determine whether that behavior, and his own sacking, constituted an obstruction of justice, a potentially impeachable offense.
“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” he told senators. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.”
Easing months of speculation, Comey did confirm that Trump was not personally the subject of a counterterror or criminal probe when he left the FBI last month.
The White House and Trump’s lawyers expressed vindication over some parts of Comey’s testimony and lashed out at others.
“I can definitely say the president is not a liar and frankly am insulted by that question,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Lawyer Marc Kasowitz said the president “never told Mr Comey ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’ in form or substance,” rejecting a key allegation made by the sacked FBI director.
Deploying Trump’s trademark bareknuckle style, Kasowitz also suggested the ousted lawman should be prosecuted for leaking “privileged information.”