Trump’s re­sponse

Tells con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence, “We are un­der siege.”

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

As fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey was tes­ti­fy­ing against him across town Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Trump hit back hard against his most prom­i­nent ad­ver­sary and warned a con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence in Wash­ing­ton, “We are un­der siege.”

Frus­trated by months of neg­a­tive me­dia cov­er­age of his cam­paign’s al­leged ties to Rus­sia and gov­ern­ment leaks aimed at un­der­min­ing his pres­i­dency, a de­fi­ant Mr. Trump took on Mr. Comey in the le­gal and po­lit­i­cal are­nas.

The pres­i­dent’s per­sonal lawyer ap­peared be­fore a horde of re­porters at the Na­tional Press Club, say­ing Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee “vin­di­cated” Mr. Trump of ac­cu­sa­tions that he tried to pres­sure the FBI to back off any in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

And the lawyer, Marc Ka­sowitz, ac­cused Mr. Comey of re­veal­ing him­self as a leaker of “priv­i­leged” pres­i­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions that could put him in le­gal jeop­ardy.

“We will leave it to the ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor­i­ties to de­ter­mine whether these leaks should be in­ves­ti­gated along with all the oth­ers that are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated,” Mr. Ka­sowitz said.

Mr. Trump, speak­ing to the Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion’s con­fer­ence as Mr. Comey was still tes­ti­fy­ing, didn’t men­tion the ex-FBI di­rec­tor by name. But Mr. Trump made clear he be­lieves that he is in a crit­i­cal mo­ment in the fight for his pres­i­dency.

“We are un­der siege, you un­der­stand that,” Mr. Trump told the crowd of evan­gel­i­cal sup­port­ers. “The en­trenched in­ter­ests and the failed bit­ter voices in Wash­ing­ton will do ev­ery­thing in their power to try and stop us from this righ­teous cause, to try to stop all of you. They will lie, they will ob­struct, they will spread their ha­tred and their prej­u­dice.”

But, the pres­i­dent added, “we will not back down from do­ing what is right.”

“We know the truth will pre­vail,” Mr. Trump said. “Noth­ing worth do­ing ever came easy. But we know how to fight bet­ter than any­body, and we never give up. We are win­ners, and we are go­ing to fight and win and have an un­be­liev­able fu­ture. The good and de­cent peo­ple will get the change they voted for and that they so richly de­serve.”

The White House had been gird­ing for weeks for the me­dia spec­ta­cle of the ousted Mr. Comey, whose feud with the pres­i­dent has grown in­creas­ingly bit­ter, tes­ti­fy­ing in a hear­ing broad­cast live by sev­eral TV net­works.

Al­though TVs in West Wing of­fices aired the hear­ing on four-quad­rant screens tuned to the var­i­ous net­works, aides pub­licly tried to por­tray an at­mos­phere of busi­ness as usual at the White House.

White House deputy press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders said Mr. Trump was busy Thurs­day morn­ing in meet­ings with De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster.

“The pres­i­dent’s en­gaged in na­tional se­cu­rity meet­ings,” she said. “It’s a reg­u­lar Thurs­day at the White House.”

Ms. San­ders noted that the pres­i­dent’s speech was touch­ing on sky­rock­et­ing health in­sur­ance costs un­der Oba­macare, “job-killing fed­eral reg­u­la­tions” and the threat of Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.

“These are the is­sues that Amer­i­cans are ac­tu­ally talk­ing about around their din­ner ta­bles, and that’s what the pres­i­dent will be speak­ing about,” she said.

Mr. Trump did ad­dress those top­ics. He also con­tin­ued with his theme of be­ing “un­der siege,” warn­ing his con­ser­va­tive, re­li­gious base that they’ll need to work even harder to elect Repub­li­cans to Congress in 2018 be­cause he can’t count on a sin­gle Demo­cratic vote to en­act his leg­isla­tive agenda.

The pres­i­dent said Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have “gone so far left that I don’t know if they can ever come back. What they have done is they’ve tried to ob­struct, and that’s why, when it comes to the elec­tions in ’18, we have to get more” Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

He said of the par­ti­san­ship in Wash­ing­ton, “The level of ha­tred is be­yond any­thing that I’ve ever seen.”

The pres­i­dent and his aides say that an­i­mos­ity ex­tends to leaks by en­trenched bu­reau­crats and some high-pro­file fig­ures such as Mr. Comey, whom Mr. Trump fired last month, say­ing he’d lost con­fi­dence in the FBI chief. Days af­ter the fir­ing, Mr. Trump also said that he be­lieved the FBI’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was es­sen­tially a witch hunt, al­though he main­tained that he didn’t try to de­rail the probe by dis­miss­ing Mr. Comey.

Mr. Comey char­ac­ter­ized the pres­i­dent Thurs­day as a “liar,” an ac­cu­sa­tion that caused Ms. San­ders to bris­tle when a re­porter asked her about it.

“No, I can defini­tively say the pres­i­dent is not a liar,” she said. “I think it is frankly in­sult­ing that ques­tion would be asked.”

The White House is re­fer­ring most ques­tions about the Rus­sia probe to Mr. Ka­sowitz, who was hired by the pres­i­dent late last month as Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert S. Mueller was ap­pointed to take over Mr. Comey’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The pres­i­dent’s per­sonal lawyer said af­ter the Se­nate hear­ing that the pres­i­dent had been “vin­di­cated” of two main ac­cu­sa­tions by Mr. Comey — that Mr. Trump had asked the FBI di­rec­tor to “let go” of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, and that he had de­manded loy­alty of Mr. Comey.

“The pres­i­dent never in form or sub­stance di­rected or sug­gested that Mr. Comey stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing any­one, [and] the pres­i­dent never sug­gested that Mr. Comey, quote, ‘Let Flynn go,’” Mr. Ka­sowitz said. “The pres­i­dent also never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loy­alty, I ex­pect loy­alty.’ He never said it in form and he never said it in sub­stance.”

But Mr. Comey did say he felt pres­sured by the pres­i­dent to end the Flynn probe, and that Mr. Trump told him di­rectly that he ex­pected loy­alty.

Marc Ka­sowitz, Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, seized on for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey’s af­fir­ma­tion that he told Mr. Trump he was not per­son­ally un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pres­i­dent Trump said Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony be­fore Congress was part of a greater ‘siege’ that seeks to un­der­mine his pres­i­dency with ac­cu­sa­tions of Rus­sia col­lu­sion.

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