- President says of Comey: ‘No collusion, no obstruction, he’s a leaker’
- Trump denies allegations that he asked Comey to drop Flynn investigation
- Analysis: Comey has put Trump’s truthfulness centre stage
Donald Trump has declared he is “100%” willing to testify under oath about his interactions with James Comey, insisting the former FBI director was untruthful during his testimony on Capitol Hill.
The remarks came a day after Comey testified under oath that the president liedabout his firing and the FBI, in an effort to undermine the agency’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump aides and Russia.
“No collusion, no obstruction, he’s a leaker,” Trump told reporters in the White House rose garden on Friday. “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.”
But later in the joint press conference with the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, Trump was challenged by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl. First Karl asked about Comey’s claim that Trump asked him to let go an investigation into national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I will tell you, I didn’t say that,” the president replied. “And there’d be nothing wrong if I did say that, according to everybody that I’ve read today, but I did not say that.”
Trump also denied seeking a pledge of loyalty, as Comey claimed had happened when the men dined at the White House in January. Karl then asked if Trump would be willing to speak under oath to give his version of those events.
“One hundred per cent,” said the president. “I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? Think of it: I hardly know the man, it doesn’t make sense. No, I didn’t say that, and I didn’t say the other.”
Trump said he would be “glad” to tell the same thing to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election. But Trump remained elusive on the subject of tapes.
He had tweeted on 12 May: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Comey said on Thursday he hoped there were tapes and he would be happy for them to be released.
Asked on Friday if such tapes exist, Trump built suspense by saying: “Well, I’ll tell you about that maybe some time in the very near future.”
As reporters shouted in protest, he promised them in “a short period of time”, merely feeding the frenzy. One reporter shouted: “Are there tapes, sir?” He replied: “Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don’t worry.”
Soon after he spoke, the House intelligence committee announced that it had written to White House counsel Don McGahn to request that, if any recordings or memoranda of Comey’s conversations with Trump exist, they be produced to the committee by 23 June.
The press conference was not Trump’s first public comment on Thursday’s Senate intelligence committee hearing. That came on Twitter early on Friday morning. “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” he posted.
Meanwhile, Trump’s legal team was confirmed to be preparing to file a complaint against Comey for sharing his memos of meetings with the president with the New York Times.
After Comey’s testimony, Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz said in a brief statement to the press the former FBI director had “admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorised disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president”.
The legal complaint will be filed with the office of the inspector general for the Department of Justice early next week, according to a source close to the legal team who did not want to speak on the record before the complaint was filed.
The legal team will also send a complaint to the Senate judiciary committee regarding Comey’s testimony before that panel last month – as well as his testimony before the intelligence committee – to clarify on the record what Trump’s legal team views as discrepancies and falsehoods in the displaced FBIdirector’s testimony.
Richard Painter, a White House ethics counsel under George W Bush, said such an action would only amplify the notion that Trump was trying to impede the investigation. “Trying to get DOJ to go after Comey – a material witness – over ‘leak’ is yet more obstruction of Justice,” he tweeted.
Trump has long history of threatening legal action but failing to follow through.On Thursday, Kasowitz said the the president’s team would “leave it to the appropriate authorities” to determine whether Comey’s actions warranted further investigation.
It’s unclear what action the justice department might be able to take against Comey, who was no longer employed by it at the time. It’s also uncertain whether a formal complaint to the Senate judiciary committee would prompt a meaningful response.
Moreover, several experts agree that Comey did not violate any laws by sharing his personal memos with a friend to be made public and that his actions did not constitute the “unauthorized disclosure of privileged information”.
“It is not a ‘violation’ of executive privilege to voluntarily disclose materials that could be protected by the privilege, no matter what Kasowitz says,” Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in the Washington Post. “Nor is such a voluntary disclosure illegal.”
At least one Democratic senator, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, suggested Trump should now testify before Congress himself. “This is not just another silly tweet,” Schatz tweeted. “It is essential for our country that the president offer his testimony to Congress about what exactly happened.”
In an interview on Friday, Rhode Island senator Jack Reed, an ex officio member of the Senate intelligence committee, said he expected Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed in the wake of Comey’s firing to take over the Russia inquiry, to depose the president as part of the investigation.
Comey, who was fired by Trump on 9 May, told the Senate intelligence committee he believed the president fired him “because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.”
Comey confirmed that he detailed in memos several conversations in which the president asked him to drop his inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn – saying “I hope you can let this go” – and sought a pledge of loyalty that Comey deemed inappropriate, given FBI independence.
Comey also branded Trump a liar and said the president had mischaracterized their conversations to justify his abrupt dismissal.
“The administration chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI, by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple, and I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.”
Comey said he told Trump on three occasions he was not personally under investigation. Federal investigators have cautioned that their inquiry into contacts between Trump and Moscow remains inconclusive, but Trump’s lawyers and supporters nonetheless seized on that piece of information to claim the president had been cleared of wrongdoing.
Comey also suggested that Mueller was investigating whether Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice.
Comey said he asked a friend, a member of the law department of Columbia University, to give to the New York Times details of his memos about his interactions with Trump, “because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel”. Mueller was appointed as special counsel on 17 May.
Comey explained that he documented each meeting with Trump because he thought the president might be dishonest about what transpired.
“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document,” he said of their first conversation at Trump Tower in New York in January.
Trump issued a second tweet just before 7am, writing about what is reportedly his favored morning show: “Great reporting by @foxandfriends and so many others. Thank you!”