In his first televised interview since President Trump fired him last year, James Comey calls Trump “morally unfit to be President.”
The former FBI director’s remarks came during a wide-ranging interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday evening. The media appearance kicks off a publicity tour to promote the release of Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty,” which paints a scathing portrait of the President.
“Our President must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country,” Comey told Stephanopoulos,, adding, “the most important being truth. This President is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be President.”
“A Higher Loyalty” won’t be formally released until next week, but explosive details have already spilled out into the media. Major media outlets, including CNN, obtained copies of the book this week and quickly published reports on its scathing and unsparingly critical depictions of the President. According to those reports, Comey writes that Trump is “unethical and untethered to the truth” and compares his presidency to a “forest fire.”
The President and his allies have launched a forceful counterattack. On Sunday morning, Trump unleashed a series of tweets accusing Comey of revealing classified information, suggesting he should go to jail, and saying that he “will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history.” On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Comey “will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack.”
Comey has indeed faced criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike — and the release of his book gives him a high-profile platform to defend himself. Democrats have faulted Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Comey announced in July 2016 that he would not recommend charges against Clinton, but stated publicly that Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information. Clinton herself has pointed to Comey’s actions in explaining her presidential election loss. But Comey writes in his book that after the 2016 election, then-President Obama told Comey that he remained confident in his “integrity” and “ability.”
The publicity tour — and the book — will be the first time the American public has heard extensively from Comey since his explosive testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June of last year. In a written statement to the committee, Comey claimed that Trump had asked him for “loyalty.” Comey also revealed during the hearing that he documented his interactions with Trump because he was “concerned” that the President “might lie about the nature of our meeting.”
Trump has denied having asked Comey for his loyalty.
In his press tour, Comey is sure to be asked to weigh in on Trump and the various twists and turns in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as any potential links between Russia and Trump campaign associates.
On Friday, Stephanopoulos tweeted out a link to another preview where Comey describes warning Trump about one of the most infamous allegations in a dossier of claims involving Trump and Russia, parts of which remain unverified.
“I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013,” Comey says in the clip. In the clip, Comey characterizes the situation as surreal. “I’m about to meet with a person who doesn’t know me, who has just been elected the president of the United States … and I’m about to talk to him about allegations that he was involved with prostitutes in Moscow and that the Russians taped it and have leverage over him.”
There is no indication that any such tape exists, and Trump has pushed back against the allegation.
“Does anyone really believe that story?” he said at a press conference last year after a reporter asked if he had ever “engaged in conduct that you now regret” during past visits to Russia and whether he was vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.
When Trump fired Comey in May 2017, the administration cited a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticizing Comey’s handling of the inquiry into Clinton’s email server. But Trump later said he was thinking about “this Russia thing” around the time he decided to fire Comey.
In his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last year, Comey said he believes the President asked him to “drop any investigation of Flynn,” a reference to former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador and is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation. Trump has called the special counsel probe a “witch hunt” and repeatedly insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.