Former FBI Director James Comey called Donald Trump unfit to lead the nation, saying in an interview that aired Sunday that the president is “someone for whom truth is not a high value” and who treats women “like they’re pieces of meat.”
“I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president,” Comey said in the interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
The interview marks the beginning of a weeks-long media tour for Comey’s new tell-all book, which charts his career from a prosecutor of mafia figures — whose emphasis on loyalty Comey says was similar to Trump’s — to his perch as FBI director until the president fired him last year.
In the wide-ranging interview, Comey laid out the ways in which he says Trump tried to unduly influence him, talking to him privately about the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and asking for Comey’s loyalty during a private dinner at the White House.
Repeated private meetings, phone calls and friendly handshakes from the president made Comey uncomfortable, he said. In a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump asked Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who was fired and later pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement. “I hope you can let it go,” Comey recounted Trump saying to him.
Comey compared Trump to the mafia bosses he spent years prosecuting as a young public servant.
“I’m not trying to…suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and, you know, shaking down shopkeepers,” Comey said, adding that the similarity was in what he saw as a culture of loyalty around the president. “The loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything, it’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’ interests. It’s the family, the family, the family, the family.”
The first televised interview with Comey could provoke Trump’s ire, even as he grapples with multiple political and personal challenges this week. Before the interview aired, Trump was already reacting to the tell-all book, which is due out Tuesday. Over the course of the weekend, Trump devoted five tweets to the former FBI director and bestowed on him the nickname of “Slippery James Comey,” calling him the worst leader in the history of the FBI.
“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!,” the president tweeted on Sunday before the interview aired.
“James Comey’s publicity tour reaffirms that his true higher loyalty is to himself,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said after the interview aired. “The only thing worse than Comey’s history of misconduct is his willingness to say anything to sell books. He has no credibility and President Trump was right to follow through on the bipartisan calls for him to be fired.”
The RNC, which is handling much of the pushback to the Comey book, had distributed talking points to Trump surrogates in recent days. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie helped convey those messages in a television appearance on Sunday morning.
Christie, who worked for Comey at the Justice Department when the ex-governor was a U.S. attorney, criticized Comey for having a large ego and for giving public status updates on the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton shortly before the 2016 election. Comey meditates in the book on whether those public statements influenced the outcome.
“He began to believe his own press clippings. And it’s the biggest danger in public life,” Christie said. “And the hubris that he shows in that interview is extraordinary to me. Not the guy that I worked with or worked for. And it’s sad.”
Originally, the White House assumed the Comey book would re-litigate Trump’s decision to fire him or repeat things the ex-FBI director said in congressional testimony — nothingburgers in the view of some White House aides.
Aides scrambled late last week when it became apparent that Comey’s book also brought up the so-called “pee tape” — the FBI has investigated an unconfirmed report that Trump once had prostitutes urinate on a hotel bed in Russia — and commented on the size of Trump’s hands and his general appearance. Officials worried that those details would enrage the president.
“It’s almost like Comey wrote some of the stuff in the book just to get under Trump’s skin and goad him into saying something outrageous,” one former White House official told POLITICO on Friday.
The book itself does not contain many newsy revelations, apart from an anecdote in which Comey says then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called after Trump fired him and expressed his dismay over the president’s move.
More than anything, the last third of the 300-page book tries to make the case, scene-by-scene, that Trump attempted to unduly influence the FBI director, asking him drop any investigations into collusion with Russia during the campaign. This narrative comes as special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice by, among other things, firing Comey.
The kickoff of the Comey media tour and official release of the book coincides with another busy week for the Trump White House, in which the president is navigating various investigations, diplomatic meetings, and the salesmanship of his economic record.
The president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, whose office was raided by the FBI last week, is expected to appear at a hearing on Monday in New York, where the judge is weighing how to handle material swept up in the raid. Lawyers for Trump and Cohen have argued that his records are protected by client-attorney privilege.
Later on Monday, the president heads to Florida for an event to tout the tax legislation Republicans passed last year, and then he will go to his Mar-a-Lago retreat for two days of meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The two world leaders are expected to discuss scheduling a potential summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as Trump’s recent moves on trade.
Meanwhile, Comey has a packed schedule. He will appear on ABC’s “The View” on Wednesday and on CNN and MSNBC Thursday. He has additional interviews scheduled the following week.
Comey said in the interview that aired Sunday that the sum of his interactions with Trump led him to conclude that the current administration was akin to a forest fire engulfing Washington’s political norms.
“Forest fires do tremendous damage. His presidency is doing, and will do, tremendous damage to our norms and our values, especially the truth,” Comey said. “And terrible things happen in forest fires.”