A defiant President Trump on Friday accused former FBI director James B. Comey of committing perjury in his blockbuster Senate testimony and said he was willing to share his version of events under oath with the special counsel overseeing the expanding Russia investigation.
Trump emphatically declared his innocence yet refused to solve a mystery of his own making by stating whether he has tapes of his one-on-one conversations with Comey. Any such recordings could prove which man’s account is accurate, but the president played coy, saying he would wait “a fairly short period of time” to tell the public whether tapes exist, as he first suggested they might in May.
“Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer,” he told reporters. “Don’t worry.”
During a combative news conference in the White House Rose Garden, the president said Comey’s testimony Thursday was politically motivated, contained falsehoods, and failed to establish that Trump had colluded with Russians to win last year’s election or had obstructed justice in seeking to end the federal government’s probe.
“No collusion. No obstruction. He’s a leaker,” Trump said of Comey, adding: “We were very, very happy, and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren’t true.”
Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee painted a damning portrait of Trump’s character, and the president waited until Friday morning to break his silence — first in a 6:10 a.m. tweet declaring “total and complete vindication” and then in more detail at the afternoon news conference.
Comey — who testified that he had taken contemporaneous notes on all his conversations with Trump — said he believed that the president had fired him because of the Russia probe, told “lies” about Comey’s record at the bureau and sought to redirect the probe away from former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump and his aides and allies followed a two-pronged rebuttal strategy: They hung onto snippets of Comey’s testimony as categorical evidence of Trump’s innocence while using other elements to try to impugn the former FBI director’s credibility.
The president, who had followed the advice of his lawyers to refrain from commenting Thursday, was characteristically pugnacious in his presentation Friday and opted mostly to deliver broadsides rather than address the details of Comey’s testimony.
Jonathan Karl of ABC News drilled down on a couple of key facts, however, beginning with Comey’s statement that Trump had told him that he hoped Comey would let the Flynn investigation go. Trump replied three times, “I didn’t say that.”
Regarding Comey’s assertion that Trump had asked him during a one-on-one dinner in the White House to pledge his loyalty, the president said: “I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that?”
Karl pointed out to Trump that Comey had made these statements under oath and asked the president — who has a long and well-documented history of telling falsehoods — whether he would be willing to provide his version of events under oath.
“One hundred percent,” Trump said.
Karl also asked if he was willing to speak about the issue with Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director who is now leading the Russia investigation as special counsel. Trump said he would.
“I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you,” Trump said.
Just as his personal lawyer and surrogates had Thursday, the president branded Comey a “leaker” Friday for revealing in his testimony that he had asked a friend to pass along Comey’s personal notes of his conversations with Trump to a reporter, with the aim of prompting the appointment of a special counsel. The Justice Department later appointed Mueller to that role.
Trump wrote in his Friday morning tweet, “WOW, Comey is a leaker!” And he repeated the charge at the Rose Garden news conference, telling reporters, “He’s a leaker.”
The term “leaker” is typically used to refer to a government employee who gives classified documents or state secrets to the news media. The case is different with Comey, a former government employee who shared personal notes and recollections that are not classified.
Still, Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer, was preparing to file a complaint early next week over Comey’s testimony with the Justice Department’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 Thursday, Kasowitz alleged in a statement to reporters that Comey “unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president.”
Trump’s surrogates fanned out on television news shows to echo the president’s charge that Comey improperly leaked information.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) said on Fox News Channel: “I think we’re going to have to look at his, basically, employment contract with the FBI as to what he would keep confidential and what he would reveal. So, I think there has to be an investigation. Am I ready to say he committed a crime? No, not until we look into all this.”
Despite Trump’s declaration of “no obstruction,” Democrats on Capitol Hill raised the prospect that he may have obstructed justice, based on Comey’s testimony, and called for additional investigations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, said in a statement: “I see firsthand the distinction between the legal and counterintelligence aspects presented by Director Comey’s testimony this week. It is my strong recommendation that the Judiciary Committee investigate all issues that raise a question of obstruction of justice.”
Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who are investigating the Russia issue on the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to White House counsel Donald McGahn asking whether the White House has any recordings or memoranda of Trump’s conversations with Comey or whether any have existed in the past. They asked the White House to produce them to the committee by June 23.
Schiff and Conaway also sent a letter to Comey requesting that he share any notes or memoranda in his possession about his talks with Trump.
Trump held his news conference alongside the visiting president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, who lavished praise on his American host.
The visit came after Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, who is helping run the family’s real estate companies while his father is in office, reportedly traveled to Romania in mid-May for a hunting and sightseeing trip. A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about Trump Jr.’s travels to Romania.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded definitively that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to try to influence its outcome in Trump’s favor. But in his Rose Garden remarks, the president repeated his claim that the probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia is merely a creation of his political opponents.
“That was an excuse by the Democrats, who lost an election that some people think they shouldn’t have lost, because it’s almost impossible for the Democrats to lose the electoral college, as you know,” Trump said. “You have to run up the whole East Coast and you have to win everything as a Republican, and that’s just what we did.”
In fact, Trump lost most of the states on the Eastern Seaboard (he carried Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and a portion of Maine). He won his electoral college majority by carrying a number of hotly contested states in the industrial Midwest and elsewhere, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.