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'Slimeball' versus 'mob boss': War of words escalates between president and former FBI director

Hartford Courant 2018-04-15 22:45:00

Former FBI Director James B. Comey and the president who fired him lobbed rhetorical bombs at each other Sunday, keeping up a verbal war that has ratcheted up the tension in the White House even as it has contributed mightily to the advance sales of Comey’s new book.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast Sunday on ABC, Comey described Trump as obsessed with his own reputation — including allegations involving Moscow prostitutes — and unconcerned with countering attacks from Russia.

He also repeated his book’s description of President Trump as “untethered” to truthfulness and its statement that Trump’s White House style reminded him of the mob: “The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth,” he said in the book.

Trump, hours before the interview aired, blasted Comey with a vicious series of tweets attacking the former FBI chief as a “slimeball” and “slippery” and claiming that he “hardly knew this guy.”

“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!” the president tweeted.

He appeared to call for Comey’s imprisonment, declaring that Comey’s book, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, did not explain why he “gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail).” Trump offered no evidence that Comey has committed either of those offenses.

Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” offers a withering portrait of Trump, which he described during the hour-long interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Comey said that Trump asked him to investigate and disprove allegations contained in the so-called dossier — a collection of allegations compiled by a former British intelligence agent working for Trump’s political opponents. Trump focused repeatedly on an allegation that he had been compromised by Russian intelligence by consorting with hookers in a Moscow hotel in 2013.

“He may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn't happen,” Comey said. “And then he says something that distracted me because he said, you know, ‘If there's even a 1% chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.’”

“‘And I remember thinking, ‘How could your wife think there's a 1% chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?’ I'm a flawed human being, but there is literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true. So, what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think [that] there's only a 99% chance you didn't do that?”

By contrast with Trump, some other Republicans have tried to stay clear of the debate. On Sunday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) declined to defend Comey.

“I don’t know him very well,” Ryan said of Comey on NBC News. “I'm not trying to be evasive. But what I don't want to do is — is join some food fight, some book-selling food fight. I don't see any value in that.”

Ryan said again that he does not see the need for Congress to pass a law protecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in case Trump moves to fire him. Mueller is leading the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.

“It’s not in the president’s interest to do that,” Ryan said. “We have a rule-of-law system.”

Others, however, have worked to counter Comey’s version of history. The Republican National Committee has created a “Lyin Comey” website that prominently features attacks on him from Democrats who were unhappy about his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Eleven days before the election, Comey departed from longstanding Justice Department protocol and sent a letter to Congress saying that the FBI had reopened an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server to handle her emails. Clinton and her allies have said Comey’s actions helped cost her the election.

During the interview, Comey acknowledges that at the time, he was convinced Clinton would win, and that belief probably influenced his decision to write the letters.

“I don’t remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been because I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I’m sure that it was a factor,” Comey said in the interview.

"I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, 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,” he added.

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President Trump signed the omnibus budget bill.

President Trump signed the omnibus budget bill.

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President Trump signed the omnibus budget bill.

President Trump signed the omnibus budget bill.

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President Trump called for regulations banning bump stocks for guns on Tuesday

President Trump called for regulations banning bump stocks for guns on Tuesday

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President Trump speaks to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

President Trump speaks to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

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The U.S., Britain and France launched strikes against Syria to retaliate for a suspected chemical weapons attack.

The U.S., Britain and France launched strikes against Syria to retaliate for a suspected chemical weapons attack.

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He simply acknowledged, only when asked by reporters, that he agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May that Russia was culpable for a separate nerve-agent attack in a British city March 4 that targeted a Russian-born double agent and his daughter and injured other British citizens.

He simply acknowledged, only when asked by reporters, that he agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May that Russia was culpable for a separate nerve-agent attack in a British city March 4 that targeted a Russian-born double agent and his daughter and injured other British citizens.

joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

Twitter: @jtanfani