Former FBI Director James Comey’s no-holds-barred ABC News interview offered a glimpse of what to read in his coming book “A Higher Loyalty.” ABC News’ chief anchor George Stephanopoulos’ interviewed former FBI director James Comey for a special edition of “20/20” on April 15, 2018.
The interview aired hours after a vitriolic Twitter outburst from the president, who called Comey “slippery,” suggested he should be in jail and labeled him “the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!”
Comey acknowledged that it was “stunning” to think that Russia could have damaging information on a president but said he could not discount the possibility.
“It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s just — it’s the truth. I cannot say that,” Comey said. “It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I woulda been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can’t. It’s possible.”
He also answered “possibly” when asked if the president was attempting to obstruct justice when he cleared the Oval Office of other officials last February and encouraged him to close the investigation into Flynn, who pleaded guilty last December to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
In the interview Comey also said that President Donald Trump is a dangerous, “morally unfit” leader doing “tremendous damage” to institutional norms.
Comey said he believes that Trump is morally unfit for what he calls treating women “like pieces of meat,” lying constantly about matters big and small and insisting that people believe it, and seeing a moral equivalence of demonstrators and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Comey said that in his view a president must embody respect and adhere to the nation’s core values, the most important being truth. He concludes that Trump “is not able to do that” and is “morally unfit to be president.”
News outlets have obtained copies of Comey’s book before its formal release. In it, Comey wrote that Trump, in a private meeting, pressed the then-FBI director for his loyalty.
Comey told ABC News that the title of the book came from a “bizarre conversation” he had with Trump at the White House in January 2017 shortly after his inauguration.
“He asked for my loyalty personally as the F.B.I. director. My loyalty’s supposed to be to the American people and to the institution,” Comey said in the interview.
Comey also weighed in on Trump, the salacious – and unverified – Russian dossier, and his reason for going public about the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server in the final days of the 2016 election.
In regard to what Sec. Clinton and a large number of Democrats blamed former FBI Director James Comey for her November defeat, he said: “I hope not – but the honest answer is, it wouldn’t have changed the way I think about it,” Comey said. He added he hoped people would read his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and put themselves in his shoes.
Comey claimed he wasn’t trying to favor one candidate over the other but instead tried to do “the right thing,” though he admitted his decision was influenced by the assumption Clinton would beat Trump in the election.
In the interview, Comey appeared to have no fondness for the president who fired him last May. “The challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him,” he told Stephanopoulos. “And the question is, how much stain is too much stain and how much stain eventually makes you unable to accomplish your goal of protecting the country and serving the country?”
The former FBI director said, however, he’d still be working for the government had he not been removed. “I was dreading it,” Comey said, noting he’d be “an unhappy F.B.I. director, but in a way proud of the organization and in my role in trying to protect it.”
One of the enduring images of Comey was captured by television cameras shortly after Trump became president and held a reception at the White House for law enforcement officials. The President calls Comey, who walks across a room to shake the president’s hand, and Trump appears to lean over and almost kiss his cheek.
The moment was one of many that Comey describes in which he believes the president is trying to intimidate him into understanding that they are both on the same side, part of the same team.
Comey also spoke in the interview about having to confront Trump about allegations against him.
“I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013,” Comey says in the clip.
Comey characterizes the situation as surreal. “I’m about to meet with a person who doesn’t know me, who has just been elected the president of the United States … and I’m about to talk to him about allegations that he was involved with prostitutes in Moscow and that the Russians taped it and have leverage over him.”
Comey is embarking on a public rollout of his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which comes out Tuesday. In the book, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and calls his leadership of the country “ego driven and about personal loyalty.”
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, setting off a scramble at the Justice Department that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Mueller’s probe has expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
Trump has said he fired Comey because of his handling of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s email practices. Trump used the investigation as a cudgel in the campaign and repeatedly said Clinton should be jailed for using a personal email system while serving as secretary of state. Democrats, on the other hand, have accused Comey of politicizing the investigation.
The Republican National Committee has helped with the pushback effort against Comey for his book by launching a website and supplying surrogates with talking points that question his credibility.
Former FBI Director James Comey’s no-holds-barred ABC News interview offered a glimpse of what to read in his coming book A Higher Loyalty.” ABC News’ chief anchor George Stephanopoulos’ interviewed former FBI director James Comey for a special edition of “20/20” on April 15, 2018.