Comey spec­u­lates Rus­sians may have dam­ag­ing info on Trump

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS - CATHER­INE LUCEY ERIC TUCKER

WASH­ING­TON — In his scathing ap­praisal of the man who fired him as FBI chief, James Comey cited “some ev­i­dence of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice” in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ac­tions and spec­u­lated that Rus­sians might have dirt on the pres­i­dent. Trump struck back, brand­ing Comey a crim­i­nal.

Their war of words es­ca­lated Mon­day af­ter Comey, in an ABC in­ter­view broad­cast the night be­fore, la­belled Trump “morally un­fit” for of­fice.

Trump tweeted that Comey drafted an ex­on­er­a­tion of Hil­lary Clinton long be­fore he talked to her as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her email prac­tices. He la­belled Comey “dis­grun­tled” and ac­cused him and al­lies of hav­ing “com­mit­ted many crimes.” For his part, Comey has said that nine or 10 months into the Clinton probe, he had a “clear pic­ture” where it was go­ing and it’s com­mon to draft state­ments be­fore an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plete.

Comey’s re­marks, cou­pled with the re­lease of his forth­com­ing book, of­fer his ver­sion of events sur­round­ing his fir­ing and the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling and Clinton’s email prac­tices. Sev­eral of the episodes he de­scribes in de­tail, in­clud­ing a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion about for­mer White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, are cen­tral to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and his rec­ol­lec­tions are pre­sum­ably valu­able for pros­e­cu­tors ex­am­in­ing whether the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions con­sti­tute ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

The ex-FBI di­rec­tor, who un­til his fir­ing in May led an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble ties be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign, ac­knowl­edged that it was “stun­ning” to think that Rus­sia could have dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about a U.S. pres­i­dent. But he said that in Trump’s case, he could not dis­count the pos­si­bil­ity that the pres­i­dent had been com­pro­mised.

“These are more words I never thought I’d ut­ter about a pres­i­dent of the United States, but it’s pos­si­ble,” Comey told ABC News’ chief an­chor Ge­orge Stephanopou­los. He also ac­knowl­edged he had no proof that Rus­sia has dirt on Trump: “I think it’s pos­si­ble. I don’t know.”

He also an­swered “pos­si­bly” when asked if the pres­i­dent was at­tempt­ing to ob­struct jus­tice when he cleared the Oval Of­fice of other of­fi­cials in Fe­bru­ary 2017 be­fore en­cour­ag­ing him to close the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Flynn, who by that point was sus­pected of ly­ing to the FBI about his Rus­sian con­tacts. The re­tired gen­eral pleaded guilty in De­cem­ber and is now co­op­er­at­ing with Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Comey also said he be­lieved Trump treated women like “pieces of meat.”

“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,” Comey said.

Trump on Sun­day re­jected Comey’s as­ser­tion that Trump had sought his loy­alty at a Jan­uary 2017 din­ner, say­ing “I hardly even knew this guy. Just an­other of his many lies.” He also sug­gested Comey should be im­pris­oned, tweet­ing, “how come he gave up Clas­si­fied In­for­ma­tion (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail).” There is no in­di­ca­tion Comey is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for do­ing ei­ther.

The pres­i­dent be­gan as­sail­ing Comey even be­fore the in­ter­view came out.

He seized on an ex­cerpt shown Satur­day in which Comey said his be­lief that Clinton would beat Trump in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was prob­a­bly a fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to dis­close the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her emails. Comey, Trump tweeted, “was mak­ing de­ci­sions based on the fact that he thought she was go­ing to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!”

That ar­gu­ment was star­tling given that Comey’s han­dling of the email in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing his dis­clo­sure shortly be­fore the elec­tion that the FBI had re­opened its probe, en­raged Democrats. Af­ter Clinton’s loss, many Democrats blamed Comey, and Clinton her­self has said it hurt her elec­tion prospects.

Comey again de­fended his ac­tions, telling ABC that he made what he thought was the best de­ci­sion at the time. Comey said he did not re­mem­ber “con­sciously think­ing” about the elec­tion re­sults as he de­cided to dis­close that the FBI had re­opened its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into can­di­date Clinton’s email use. But, he ac­knowl­edged, “I was op­er­at­ing in a world where Hil­lary Clinton was go­ing to beat Don­ald Trump, and so I’m sure that it was a fac­tor.”

“I don’t re­mem­ber spell­ing it out,” he added, “but it had to have been that she’s go­ing to be elected pres­i­dent and if I hide this from the Amer­i­can peo­ple, she’ll be il­le­git­i­mate the mo­ment she’s elected, the mo­ment this comes out.”

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, set­ting off a scram­ble at the Jus­tice Depart­ment that led to the ap­point­ment of Mueller as spe­cial coun­sel over­see­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mueller’s probe has ex­panded to in­clude whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice by fir­ing Comey. So far, 19 peo­ple — in­clud­ing Flynn and Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort —have been charged in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Flynn and two of the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign aides, Rick Gates and Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, have pleaded guilty and are co­op­er­at­ing with Mueller.

Asked whether he be­lieved Trump ought to be im­peached, Comey replied, “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.”

He added: “But you can­not have, as pres­i­dent of the United States, some­one who does not re­flect the val­ues that I be­lieve Repub­li­cans trea­sure and Democrats trea­sure and in­de­pen­dents trea­sure. That is the core of this coun­try. That’s our foun­da­tion. And so impeachment, in a way, would short cir­cuit that.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

TAPED IN­TER­VIEW: In this im­age re­leased by ABC News, cor­re­spon­dent Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, left, ap­pears with for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James Comey for a taped in­ter­view that will air dur­ing a prime­time “20/20” spe­cial on Sun­day on the ABC Tele­vi­sion Net­work. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loy­alty: Truth, Lies, and Lead­er­ship,” will be re­leased on Tues­day.

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