Former FBI director James B. Comey said President Trump would be “in serious jeopardy of being charged” by prosecutors in New York if he were not the occupant of the White House.
In an interview Sunday with MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Comey weighed in on last week’s court filing by federal prosecutors in New York that directly implicated Trump in plans to buy the silence of women who alleged affairs with him.
“Well, that person would be in serious jeopardy of being charged, because the government wouldn’t make that sponsoring allegation if they weren’t seriously contemplating going forward with criminal charges,” Comey said when asked what the consequences would be for someone not currently serving as president. “Now, where it stands here, I can’t say.”
Trump defended the payments Monday as a “simple private transaction.” But prosecutors say that because Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, made the payments to influence the 2016 election, they amount to campaign-finance violations.
Sunday’s interview came two days after Comey defended himself and the FBI in a six-hour, closed-door meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Trump lashed out at Comey on Twitter after the meeting, calling him “Leakin’ James Comey” and contending that he “must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day.”
In the exchange with Wallace, Comey said his reaction to Trump’s sharply critical tweets about him is typically to “kind of shrug and sometimes smile and laugh about it.”
“My reaction to it is actually disturbing to me, which is kind of: ‘Eh, there he goes again. I thought I was Lyin’ James Comey. Now I’m Leakin’ James Comey,’ ” he said.
But Comey also suggested Trump’s repeated attacks on him were problematic because of his status as a potential witness in a probe examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing him last year.
“We have to remind ourselves, the president of the United States of America is publicly announcing that people are committing crimes and that they should be in jail — private citizens,” he said, adding: “I don’t know how the special counsel thinks about it, but if I were a prosecutor and a public figure started attacking the credibility of one of my witnesses in a pending investigation, that’s something that I would look at very closely.”
Comey said that “the giant is awakening” because of Trump’s actions, but he warned against impeachment, which he said would let “the country off the hook.”
“We’re going to have an election in now less than two years,” he said. “We must hold him accountable. And it’s not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It’s an American thing.”
Trump responded on Tuesday by arguing that Comey had “totally exposed his partisan stance” by urging Democrats to win back the White House.
“In other words, he is and has been a Democrat,” the president said in a tweet. “Comey had no right heading the FBI at any time, but especially after his mind exploded!”
Comey had been a Republican for most of his adult life; he recently said he now considers himself an independent.