WASHINGTON - Former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey says President Donald Trump is "morally unfit" to be president and that there is "some evidence" Trump obstructed justice.
"There's something more important than that that should unite all of us, and that is our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country," Comey said. "The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that."
Comey's comments came in an interview with ABC News Sunday night ahead of the publication this week of a book Comey wrote, "A Higher Loyalty." In part, it recounts his role in investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election and Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server that contained classified information, as well as Comey's private discussions with Trump before the president fired him last May.
On Monday, hours after the telecast, Trump claimed that "Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her," lied to Congress about it and "then based his decisions on her poll numbers." The U.S. leader claimed that Comey and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, himself recently fired, and others "committed many crimes!"
Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G), then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2018
Comey claimed that in one of his meetings with Trump, which he had previously described in public congressional testimony, Trump brought up the investigation of his one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn and asked if the FBI director could "let it go."
"It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend — and I'm just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor — it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent," Comey said.
Trump has denied he asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States. Trump has also used Twitter to call Comey a liar and called for his imprisonment.
"The big questions in Comey's badly reviewed book aren't answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail)," Trump posted Sunday, apparently claiming wrongly that the notes Comey wrote about private meetings with Trump and talked about publicly were classified. It was not immediately clear what Trump was referencing in his contention that Comey lied in testimony before congressional committees.
The big questions in Comey’s badly reviewed book aren’t answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn’t they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe’s $700,000 & more?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Comey recounted in the interview another meeting where he said Trump asked for his loyalty.
"I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty," Trump said on Twitter before the interview aired. "I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His 'memos' are self serving and FAKE!"
I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His “memos” are self serving and FAKE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Trump's move to fire Comey led to the appointment of former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel investigating Russia's election interference and whether Trump obstructed justice. Mueller has so far charged 19 people in the probe, including Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week the Trump administration believes the president has the legal authority to fire Mueller, a move Comey told ABC would be the president's "most serious attack yet on the rule of law."
Comey said if allowed to continue his work, he is confident Mueller "will find the truth."
"And again, I don't know what that will be. He may conclude that there is nothing that touches President Trump or any of his senior people. And that's fine, so long as he's able to find that truth," Comey said.
Trump denies his campaign colluded with Russia.
The U.S. intelligence community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign meant to undermine confidence in the election, hurt Clinton's chances of winning and boost the likelihood of Trump being elected president.
Comey also said he cannot rule out the possibility that Russia has compromising information about Trump.
"I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible," he said.
Comey faced criticism for his handling of the investigation into Clinton's email practices while she served as secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, including announcing just before the election that the probe had been reopened. Clinton said that decision helped cost her the election.
Comey told ABC he made what he thought was the appropriate decision and that a belief Clinton would win the vote was a factor.
"I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been," he said. "That she's going to be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out."
Trump expressed his dissatisfaction with those comments on Twitter.
"Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe. In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!"
Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe. In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Trump expressed a similar view of Comey in another tweet: "Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!"
Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
FBI directors are appointed for 10-year terms that span presidencies. When asked if he would still be serving in that position had Trump not fired him, Comey said he would be unhappy, but would still be leading the organization and "trying to protect it."
Comey likened the Trump presidency to a forest fire, saying it is doing "tremendous damage to our norms and values," but that he is optimistic because he sees "already things growing and flourishing that didn't before this fire."