WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday accused former FBI director James B. Comey of lying under oath to Congress in the Russia investigation and called him a “leaker,” before suggesting he would be willing to give his side of the story to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“100 percent,” Trump said when asked by a reporter during a Rose Garden news conference if he would be open to testifying in the FBI probe that Mueller is overseeing.
“I’d be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you,” Trump added.
Trump’s declaration in the Rose Garden, where he was appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, represented a dramatic new development a day after Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed the president had improperly attempted to influence the investigation into the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian officials.
But Trump said at the news conference that Comey’s testimony proved he had not colluded with the Russians or sought to obstruct the investigation.
“Frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said,” Trump said, “and some of the stuff he said just wasn’t true.”
As he did in a message on Twitter Friday morning, Trump called Comey a “leaker.” When asked if he had covertly recorded his conversations with Comey, as Trump had suggested in a tweet shortly after firing Comey last month, the president was coy.
“I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime soon,” he said. After reporters pressed again, Trump said he would disclose that “in a very short period of time. You’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.”
Trump also denied Comey’s assertion, based on notes the former director made after a one-on-one dinner in January, that the president had asked him to declare his “loyalty.”
“I hardly know the man,” Trump said. “I’m not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that? . . . I mean think of it. I hardly know that man. It doesn’t make sense. No I didn’t say that.”
A day after he had allowed surrogates to respond for him, Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to attack Comey directly, writing: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication . . . and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”
Trump’s statement came as surrogates fanned out to defend the president and his personal lawyer was preparing to file a “complaint” early next week over Comey’s testimony to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a person close to the legal team.
A spokesman for the Justice Department Inspector General declined to comment on the matter, which was first reported by Fox News and CNN.
On the “Today” show, former campaign aide Corey Lewandowski stated that Comey was part of the intelligence “deep state” out to undermine Trump. The president and his aides have complained about leaks, purportedly from the intelligence community, throughout the investigations by the FBI and Congress into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the Trump campaign’s contact with Russian officials.
“His goal is to manipulate media, manipulate the press . . . He’s everything that’s wrong in Washington,” Lewandowski said.
Trump’s personal legal team, led by attorney Marc Kasowitz, is said to be focusing the complaint on Comey’s disclosure during his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he asked a professor at Columbia University law school to pass on memos he wrote about his private interactions with Trump to a reporter.
Comey, who was fired by Trump last month, said he did so in hopes that the memos, which documented what the former director felt was inappropriate contact by the president amid the ongoing investigation, would prompt the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to take over the probe.
The department later appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former FBI director, as special counsel.
In a brief statement to reporters Thursday after Comey’s testimony, Kasowitz accused Comey of admitting “that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President.”
Trump’s decision to weigh in personally on Comey’s testimony represented a sharp shift in strategy for the White House and could come with political risk for Trump, who has potentially undermined himself legally on other matters through his tweets, including his attempt to impose a “travel ban” on immigrants from some majority-Muslim countries.
The Russia investigations have consumed the White House and distracted the president and lawmakers from his governing agenda. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia stole private emails and other documents from Democrats and released them publicly last year to embarrass Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and aid Trump.
Trump has vociferously denied suggestions that he and his subordinates coordinated with Russia, but he forced out his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after reports that Flynn had misled administration officials over meetings he had with the Russian ambassador.
Comey said he felt uncomfortable with the nature of his personal meetings with Trump, including a private dinner at the White House. He said Trump told him he had “hope” that the then-director would “let Flynn go,” and that he took the suggestion as a “direction.”
On Thursday, Kasowitz, in a brief statement to reporters, denied that Trump told Comey to let the case wither. Rather, Kasowitz said, Trump felt vindicated that Comey told him on several occasions that the president was not personally a focus of the investigation, an assertion Comey appeared to back up in his testimony Thursday to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Earlier in the week the president had been spoiling for a fight with Comey, but he was persuaded by Kasowitz and his senior aides to stay cool and lie low, according to about a dozen White House officials and other Republicans close to Trump, some of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
Kasowitz and White House advisers, including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Counsel Donald McGahn, argued to Trump that they had a rapid-response operation in place Thursday to defend him as vociferously as he would defend himself, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Trump agreed Wednesday not to directly engage on Comey, and by the time the ousted FBI director took the witness stand, tweeting “was not something he was considering,” one senior White House official said.
The president instead allowed surrogates to respond on Thursday, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., who posted dozens of tweets to his own account mocking Comey. In his statement, Kasowitz accused Comey of lying about his private conversations with the president and flatly denied the former director’s assertion that Trump had asked for “loyalty” during a private dinner.