House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, speaking in an interview broadcast Sunday, declined to wade into the nasty feud between President Trump and James B. Comey, the FBI director whom Trump fired last year and who is now promoting a book describing the experience.
Ryan (R-Wis.), who announced his retirement on Wednesday, has previously defended Comey from Trump’s attacks. In May, shortly after Comey’s dismissal, he rejected Trump’s description of Comey as a “nut job” and said “I like Comey” — though he also defended Trump’s decision to fire him.
But since then, the question of Comey’s credibility has become a more pressing matter in Washington as he has accused Trump of acting to obstruct the federal investigation into his campaign and business ties to Russia. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” will be released Tuesday, and he is engaged in a media blitz to promote it — including a Sunday prime-time interview on ABC.
“James Comey, a man of integrity?” Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asked Ryan during the interview, which was taped Friday.
“As far as I know,” Ryan replied. “I don’t know him very well.”
Asked whether he was willing to take Comey at his word, Ryan declined to elaborate, saying, “I’m not going to try and help sell some books here” and “I don’t know the guy.”
Todd also asked Ryan whether he agreed with Trump’s description of Comey as a “slimeball.”
“I don’t speak like that,” he said, adding: “By the way, I wouldn’t do that because you’re going to help him sell books. So I’ve met him two or three times in two or three briefings. I don’t really know the guy. I’m not trying to be evasive. But what I don’t want to do is … join some food fight, some book-selling food fight. I don’t see any value in that.”
In a subsequent exchange, Ryan reiterated that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ought to be allowed to complete his investigation into the Trump orbit. But Ryan again declined to endorse any legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired by Trump.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” the speaker said. “I don’t think he’s going to fire Mueller.”
Said Todd: “Insurance might not be necessary, but you buy it.”
“I don’t think they’re really contemplating this,” Ryan replied. “We’ve had plenty of conversations about this. It’s not in the president’s interest to do that. We have a rule-of-law system. No one is above that rule-of-law system. I don’t think he’s going to be fired. I don’t think he should be fired. And I think I just leave it at that.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Ryan discussed his relationship with Trump and the state of the Republican Party.
Ryan told Todd that Trump was “disappointed” when he told him about his decision to retire.
“We have a good relationship. We’ve gotten a lot done together,” the speaker said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished great things, and my kids aren’t getting any younger. And I kind of just walked him through my thinking, and he said, ‘Well, I can’t argue with that.’ ”
Ryan also confronted the notion that his brand of conservatism — one that argues for free trade, immigration reform, cuts to entitlement programs and an aspirational outlook — had been waylaid by Trump, who has called for tariffs and a crackdown on immigration while ruling out cuts to Medicare or Social Security.
“I just don’t see it like that,” he said, citing the recent GOP tax bill and the military buildup called for in the recent bipartisan budget agreement as key triumphs.
He also denied that deficits have exploded under his speakership because of the fiscal imbalance embedded in both of those bills: “That was going to happen. The baby boomers retiring was going to do that. These deficit trillion-dollar projections have been out there for a long, long time. Why? Because of mandatory spending, which we call entitlements.”
And Ryan rejected outright the notion that he had “enabled” Trump’s radical remaking of the GOP, pointing to a rapidly growing economy.
“We have empowerment zones in law for the first time,” he said. “We’ve got tax reform for the first time in a generation. That’s done. … And, by the way, we have more to do this year. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about our agenda. We’re going to focus on career and technical education. We’re going to focus on getting people from welfare into jobs. And we can do this when we have a strong, growing economy. And that’s a darn good legacy.”