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Trump Tweets Vindication After Former FBI Chief's Senate Testimony

  • VOA News

President Donald Trump speaks to a Faith and Freedom conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 8, 2017, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter Friday to claim "total and complete vindication," one day after fired FBI director James Comey told lawmakers that Trump was not a target in the bureau's investigation into Russia.

Trump fired Comey in May, saying "this Russia thing" was on his mind when he decided to dismiss the head of the nation's top law enforcement agency while Comey was leading its probe into Russia's alleged meddling in last year's election. In his tweet Friday, the president described Comey as "a leaker."

Comey testified Thursday on Capitol Hill that he believed Trump was trying to get him to drop an investigation of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and that White House officials spread "lies, plain and simple" to cover up the reason behind Comey's dismissal.

"There's no doubt that I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Comey told lawmakers, referring to the widening probe of Russian influence on last year's U.S. presidential election, which American intelligence agencies have said was an effort by the Kremlin to help Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

WATCH: Comey on why he was fired

Comey's nearly three-hour testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was his first chance to speak in public about the meetings and conversations he had with Trump during the months before being fired.

The Russia probe

Comey said it was and still is the "high confident judgment" of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign. "It's not a close call," he added.

The president's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, told reporters immediately after the hearing that Trump "never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone."

After Comey's abrupt and stunning dismissal last month, Trump and his aides at first said the action was necessary because the FBI was in disarray, and its director had lost the trust of his agents. Comey said Trump lied and defamed him by that story, and the president himself subsequently admitted the ongoing investigation of Russian influence on U.S. politics was his primary motivation for the firing.

WATCH: Kasowitz on Trump's response to Comey testimony

Comey's notes

Comey told how he made meticulous efforts to document his interactions with Trump, whose insistence on private meetings aroused the veteran prosecutor's suspicions. The FBI chief wrote detailed memoranda immediately after each of his talks with Trump, a measure Comey had never felt obligated to do with previous presidents, and kept those documents in government files.

Comey said he did not distribute his private notes to the attorney general -- the U.S. government's top legal official, who supervises the FBI -- because Trump's appointee to that post, former Senator Jeff Sessions, was about to recuse himself from the Russian investigation due to his own unpublicized meetings with senior Russian officials.

WATCH: Comey on memorializing his meetings with Trump

The Justice Department later issued a statement saying that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe only because he was involved in President Trump's campaign.

The president floated the notion that there was a recording of his most sensitive conversation with Comey, and that it would embarrass the FBI chief.

"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey said, because he felt his contemporaneous notes accurately reflected what happened. In fact, no tapes have surfaced.

American University professor of government Chris Edelson told VOA the president's remarks about a recording could be problematic for the president.

"Trump, after he fired Comey, tweeted, 'Comey better hope there aren't tapes' and that could be seen as an effort to intimidate a witness," Edelson said.

High-level 'leak' made headlines

Comey testified he realized that a special counsel would have to be appointed to pursue the widening investigation of Russian influences on U.S. officials, so he took the extraordinary step of "leaking" some of his private notes -- passing them to a confidant at a university in New York, who relayed the information to a reporter for The New York Times.

Comey's highly unorthodox tactic worked, however, because a respected former FBI director, Robert Mueller, was named to head the probe of Russian influence on U.S. politics. Mueller's team has been given Comey's private notes, the ex-director said.

Asked whether he felt Trump had obstructed justice by his actions since taking office this year, Comey deflected those queries, saying such questions should go to Mueller, the special counsel.

Obstruction of justice is a federal criminal and impeachable offense.

In his opening written statement, Comey recounted how at a White House dinner in January, shortly after Trump assumed power, the president told him, "'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence."

Immediately after the hearing, Kasowitz, Trump's lawyer, denied Trump ever "directed or suggested" that Comey end any investigation and cast Comey as one of the "leakers" determined to undermine the Trump administration.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) responds to a question as he meets with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) responds to a question as he meets with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017.

Facing the press

Trump may face questions from the media for the first time when he holds a White House news conference Friday after meeting with the president of Romania.

Trump and President Klaus Iohannis are expected to discuss a variety of issues, including trade and defense. At a Washington event hosted Wednesday by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Iohannis said, "Security and defense remain a key component of the U.S.-Romanian strategic partnership."

Iohannis said Romania is "a dependable ally" that is "doing its share" to fulfill its obligations to NATO by spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, as Trump has demanded of all member countries.

In a speech Friday at the Department of Transportation, Trump announced the establishment of a new council "to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze," capping what the White House has promoted as "infrastructure week," a series of events that began Monday in Ohio when he announced plans to privatize the federal government's air traffic control system.

The council, Trump said, would improve transparency with a new online dashboard allowing the public to track the progress major infrastructure projects. The council would also impose "tough, new penalties" on federal agencies that miss deadlines.

The White House hopes the nation's infrastructure will be overhauled primarily through public-private partnerships. It has proposed funding the overhaul with $200 billion in tax breaks over nine years that would theoretically result in $1 trillion worth of construction.

Rebuilding the nation's infrastructure initially was believed to have been supported by Republican and Democratic lawmakers. But many Democrats are opposed to Trump's plans for financing the overhaul, arguing they would result in taxpayer-funded corporate profits, with the costs absorbed by consumers.

The president is scheduled to depart Washington Friday afternoon for Bedminster, New Jersey, where he will spend the weekend at the Trump National Golf Club.

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