Comey on Trump: ‘He’s morally unfit’
He says president may be compromised
“There’s a non-zero possibility that the Russians have some, some sway over him that is rooted in his personal experience.”
McLEAN, Va. — In an extraordinary interview, former FBI director James Comey called Donald Trump “morally unfit to be president” and said he believed it was possible the Russians were holding compromising personal information over the head of the commander in chief.
Comey’s comments and his new book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, are fueling a combustible moment in Washington that could become a constitutional crisis. At the White House, Trump has unleashed a barrage of angry tweets against Comey — calling him an “untruthful slime ball,” among other insults — amid reports he was poised to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his role in the Russia investigation that Comey once headed.
Never before in American history has a current or former director of the FBI, the nation’s principal law-enforcement
agency, publicly described a president in such a scathing manner.
“I actually believe he’s morally unfit to be president,” Comey told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Friday at his home in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington. He called that characterization appropriate for “someone who is able to see moral equivalence in (white nationalist protests in) Charlottesville or to speak and treat women like they’re pieces of meat and to lie constantly and who appears to lack an external moral framework” of religion
or philosophy or history.
In even an more explosive comment, Comey said it would be less than honest to rule out the possibility that Trump had been compromised by one of the United States’ primary foreign adversaries.
“It’s hard to explain some things without at least leaving your mind open to that being a possibility,” said Comey, who has served three presidents in senior posts. “There’s a nonzero possibility that the Russians have some, some sway over him that is rooted in his personal experience, and I don’t know whether that’s the business about the activity in a Moscow hotel room or finances or something else.”
The “Moscow hotel room” refers to unsubstantiated allegations of a salacious 2013 tryst with prostitutes by Trump.
With the benefit of hindsight, the former FBI director said, he may have made a “mistake” in assuring the president-elect at their first meeting, two weeks before the inauguration, that he was not being investigated. “It caused all kinds of issues,” he said.
Comey said he gave the assurance to take Trump’s “temperature down” after briefing him on the alleged encounter with prostitutes, material that was contained in a so-called dossier prepared by a former British intelligence agent.
“It might have been a mistake,” he said. “It led the president to want to get that fact out (publicly), which I was resisting.”
Trump has dismissed the dossier as a fabrication designed to damage him. Comey said that while he didn’t know how much of the document remains unverified, its “central premise” that Russia sought to interfere with the 2016 election was “corroborated and consistent with utterly independent intelligence.”
His suspicions had been raised by Trump’s reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s attitude in private conversations was even more perplexing.
“At least in my experience, he won’t criticize Vladimir Putin even in private,” he said. “I can understand why a president ... might not want to criticize publicly another leader” in the interests of forging a good relationship. “But privately? ... Privately not being willing to do that? That always struck me.”
The suggestion that a president had been compromised by a foreign power “are words I never thought would come out of my mouth,” he added.
All the furor he has sparked since early copies of the book leaked Thursday was nowhere apparent in the living room of Comey’s home, which sits on a quiet cul-de-sac in a leafy suburb.
“I think it’s ‘lyin’ with no ‘g,’” he said with a small laugh, referring to a website, www.lyincomey.com, sponsored by the Republican National Committee and devoted to attacking his credibility. Many of the comments it features are from Democrats who have blasted Comey’s disclosures about an FBI proben into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“I even hope that Hillary Clinton at least reads those parts of the book, because I think she will walk away saying, ‘You know what? I still think that guy is an idiot, but, you know, he’s kind of an honest idiot,” he said.
Former FBI Director James Comey called President Trump someone “who appears to lack an external moral framework.” JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY