Finally, Trump’s former FBI director gives us the juice
James Comey dishes the dirt in his first interview after being fired
Donald Trump may have obstructed justice and is “morally unfit to be president”, according to James Comey, the former FBI director.
In his first interview since being fired by Trump, Comey said it is possible the Russians have compromising material on the US president.
Comey portrayed Trump as a serial liar who treats women like “meat” and acts like a mafia boss by demanding loyalty from those around him.
However Comey fell short of calling for impeachment, saying that such a move would let the American people “off the hook”. Instead he urged them to get out and vote.
Comey was speaking to ABC News to plug his new book, A Higher Loyalty, which paints an excoriating picture of the president he served under for four months.
Trump pre-empted the interview on Twitter on Sunday by saying Comey was the “worst FBI director in history” and questioning his integrity.
Comey headed up the FBI under Barack Obama and initially continued to work under Trump before being fired on May 9 2017.
Obstruction of Justice
Comey recounted a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office on February 14 2017 in which he believes obstruction of justice may have taken place.
Trump asked all those present including Mike Pence, the vice president, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to leave the room except for Comey.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I knew that whatever it was, it was really, really important that I remember everything that was said,” Comey said.
Comey recalled that Trump urged him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser whose connections with the Russian ambassador were under scrutiny.
He recalled Trump saying: “He’s a good guy, I hope you can let it go.” Comey said his response was simply “he’s a good guy”.
Asked what he was thinking at the time, Comey said: “He’s asking me to drop the criminal investigation of his, now former, national security adviser.”
Asked if Trump was “obstructing justice”, Comey responded: “Possibly. I mean, it’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.”
The comment is significant as obstruction of justice is one of the grounds for bringing impeachment charges against a sitting president.
It is also an area that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is believed to be investigating.
Trump ‘morally unfit’ for presidency
Comey was clear that he considered Trump to be “morally unfit” to lead the country, citing his comments on the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Asked if Trump was unfit to be president, Comey said: “Yes. But not in the way I often hear people talk about it.
“I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on.
“I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”
‘Possible’ Russian kompromat on Trump
Comey declined to rule out the possibility that the Russians had some compromising material on Trump.
Asked if he thought “the Russians have something on Donald Trump”, Comey replied: “I think it’s possible. I don’t know.
“These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”
Asked about how “stunning” it was he could not rule it out, Comey said: “It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s just, it’s the truth. I cannot say that.
“It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I woulda been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can’t. It’s possible.”
Comey also did not rule out lurid claims that Trump once asked prostitutes to urinate on each other while in a hotel in Russia – something contained in a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 agent, and repeatedly denied by the president.
Addressing whether the incident actually happened, Comey said: “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”
Impeachment would let people ‘off the hook’
Comey declined to back calls for Trump to be impeached, saying instead that it was up to the American people to vote with their values.
“Impeachment is a question of law and fact and politics,” Comey initially said to a question on the subject.
Two-thirds of members in the House of Representatives and then the Senate would need to approve impeachment for it to come into effect.
Pushed again over whether Trump should be impeached, Comey said: “I’ll give you a strange answer.
“I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they’re duty bound to do directly.
“People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.”
Comey also warned Trump off firing Mueller, the man leading the Russia election meddling investigation, and urged politicians to react if he does.
“It would, I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law,” Comey said, saying the issue was above the usual party politics.
He added: “It would be to the everlasting shame of partisans if they were unable to see that higher level and to protect it.”
‘I would do the same again on Clinton e-mails’
Comey expressed some doubts over the way he handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal but he stuck by his most controversial decision.
Just 11 days before the 2016 US election Comey wrote a letter to Congress saying he had reopened the Clinton e-mail investigation.
The letter, which soon leaked, swung momentum on the campaign back in Trump’s favour. Clinton later blamed it for losing her the election.
Comey admitted that the days after he sent the letter “sucked” and it was a “very painful period” in his life. He recalled: “My whole life has been dedicated to institutions that work not to have an involvement in an election.
“I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down … I felt like I was totally alone, that everybody hated me.”
However, asked if he would still send the letter knowing it would elect Trump, Comey said: “I would.”
He added on the idea of not sending the letter: “Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life.
“If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we’re done.”
– © The Daily Telegraph
Comey’s seven top quotes
1. On Donald Trump’s fitness for office
“I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on. I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it — that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”
2. On obstruction of justice
“Possibly. I mean, it’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend and – and I’m just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor – it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent.”
3. On ‘the business with the prostitutes’
“I didn’t ask about the business with the prostitutes, but he launched into an explanation as to how I should know that wasn’t true and that he remembered now, from talking to friends who had been with him, that he’d never stayed overnight at the hotel, he’d just changed clothes there and went to the Miss Universe pageant.
“I don’t know whether any of this true, but this is what he said. And then went right back without staying overnight. And then he said: ‘Another reason you know it’s not true is I’m a germaphobe. There’s no way I’d let people pee on each other around me.’ And that me caught me so much by surprise I actually let out an audible laugh and – ’cause it was just one of those – I was startled by it.
“And – and I remember thinking, ’ell, should I say that: ‘As I understand the activity sir, it doesn’t require an overnight stay. And given that it was allegedly the presidential suite at the Ritz Carlton, I would imagine you could be at a safe distance from the activity’ – all these things are bouncing around my head. But instead of saying it, it just led me to think: ‘The world’s gone crazy.’”
4. On whether the Russians have kompromat on the president
“I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”
5. On similarities to a mob boss
“I’m not trying to, by the way, suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and — you know, shaking down shopkeepers. But instead, what I’m talking about is that leadership culture constantly comes back to me when I think about my experience with the Trump administration. The — the loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant centre of everything, it’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’s interests. It’s the family, the family, the family, the family. That’s why it reminds me so much and not, ‘So what’s the right thing for the country and what are the values of the institutions that we’re dealing with?’”
6. On Donald Trump’s hands
“I say that in my book cause I’m trying to be honest, cause that’s the truth there had been all this controversy and mocking about hand size, I can’t remember the details. But as I shook his hand I made a note to check the size and it seemed like he had average-sized hands.”
7. On Trump’s staff as ‘enablers’
“That is the question that people have to ask themselves. And – and there’s no easy way to define it in the abstract, that you – the challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him. And the question is, how much stain is too much stain and how much stain eventually makes you unable to accomplish your goal of protecting the country and serving the country? So I don’t know. And it would be hard for anybody to answer that. But everyone’s gotta answer that individually.”