WASHINGTON, D.C.: Ousted FBI chief James Comey accused Donald Trump’s White House of lies and defamation in a sworn testimony on Thursday (Friday) but stopped short of saying the US president had committed the potentially impeachable offense of obstructing justice.
Comey also said the New York Times report of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was not true “in the main,” and bared that his former boss, Obama-era attorney general Loretta Lynch, asked that a probe into the hacking of defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server be referred to publicly as a “matter” and not an “investigation.”
Trump rejoiced on Twitter, saying: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”
He was referring to Comey’s revelation that he had leaked his memos to the New York Timesthrough a “friend,” a Columbia University law professor.
During almost three hours of extraordinarily frank statements carried live by networks and cable news stations, Comey described himself as “stunned” by Trump’s “very disturbing” and “very concerning” behavior in several meetings.
Detailing one-on-one talks with a sitting president—which under normal circumstances are private —Comey said he took painstaking notes for fear Trump might “lie” about the unusual encounters.
The testimony painted a devastating picture of an untrustworthy president, who at best unknowingly shred the norms of office by pressing Comey on the probe into Russian election meddling, and at worst may have criminally obstructed justice.
During one White House dinner, Comey recalled that the president asked him for “loyalty” and to lay off his former national security advisor Michael Flynn—who is under criminal investigation over his Russia ties —imploring Comey to “let this go.”
Comey indicated it was now up to a high-powered special prosecutor to determine whether that behavior, and his own sacking, constituted an obstruction of justice.
“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” he told senators. “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.”
Easing months of speculation, Comey confirmed that Trump was not personally under investigation when he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last month.
The White House and Trump’s lawyers expressed vindication over some parts of Comey’s testimony and lashed out at others.