Comey says Trump 'morally unfit' to be president
In ABC TV interview, former FBI director says US president treats women like meat and was a ‘stain’ on everyone who worked for him
James Comey has accused Donald Trump of being “morally unfit” to be president and treating women like “meat” in his first television interview in support of his new book, A Higher Loyalty.
Comey further described Trump as a “stain” on everyone who worked for him, according to a transcript of a five-hour interview published by ABC and first obtained by the New York Times.
Yet Comey said he does not wish for Trump’s impeachment because that “would let the American people off the hook”.
“People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values,” Comey said. “And impeachment in a way would short-circuit that.”
A one-hour edited version of the interview with George Stephanopolous aired on ABC News on Sunday night.
“Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country,” Comey told Stephanopoulos. “The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president.”
Turning first to Trump’s defence of a white supremacists’ march, he said: “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”
Replying to a question about whether Trump had committed an obstruction of justice, Comey said “it’s possible”.
“There’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice,” Comey said. But for the president to follow through on threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Comey said, would “set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law”.
In his book, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and challenges the president’s character, honesty and commitment to public service.
Sitting in his Virginia living room across from Stephanopolous, Comey answered questions about the Trump team’s response to Russian election tampering, about his handling of the Clinton emails investigation and his personal impressions of the president-elect.
“He had impressively coiffed hair that looks to be all his,” Comey said. “I confess I stared at it pretty closely … He looked slightly orange up close with small white half-moons under his eyes which I assume were from tanning goggles.”
Comey also described the “really weird” Trump Tower meeting in which he briefed the president-elect on the contents of an unverified intelligence document compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, including allegations that Trump had been in a Moscow hotel room in 2013 with urinating Russian prostitutes.
“I did not go into the business about people peeing on each other” in his briefing with Trump, Comey said. “I just wanted to get it done and get out of there.”
It was “unlikely” but “possible” that Russians had material with which to blackmail or otherwise compromise Trump, Comey said. “It is stunning, and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s the truth.”
Comey spoke for the first time about his immediate family’s disappointment at Hillary Clinton’s loss. He said his four daughters and his wife, Patrice Comey, all wanted Clinton to win, and as the ABC broadcast showed pictures of them protesting, Comey disclosed they attended the Women’s March in Washington a day after Trump’s inauguration.
Comey responded to criticism by Clinton and others that he had cost her the election by making public a late-stage twist in an investigation of her emails.
“It sucked,” he said.
After the election, Comey said, he felt “vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down. I felt that I was totally alone, that everybody hated me, and that there was no way out because it was the right thing to do”.
But Comey said he would make the same decision again, quoting verbatim from his book: “Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life.”
Comey described his intense discomfort at his first meeting with the president, at a reception for law enforcement officials at the White House two days after the election. Comey tried to camouflage himself in the drapery but was spotted by Trump and called across the room, video of which moment has been widely circulated.
Patrice Comey called the look on his face in the video “Jim’s Oh Shit face,” Comey said.
Comey also detailed a one-on-one dinner with Trump in the Green room of the White House at which he said Trump asked for his pledge of loyalty – an account Trump has denied.
Trump made his pitch “after the salad but before the shrimp scampi”, Comey said. The former FBI director said – not wanting to give the president any signals and realizing the gravity of the moment – that he thought to himself: “Don’t you dare move.”
Comey dismissed Trump’s denial of a different scene, in which Comey said Trump told him to “let go” of an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“The president says he didn’t say that,” Stephanopoulos said. “What am I gonna do? He did,” Comey replied with a shrug.
Brisk pre-sales for the book, and the ambitious national tour Comey has planned beginning in New York City on Tuesday, have prompted criticism about the amount of money Comey seems to be making as he settles scores with the president.
Yet Comey’s career as a government prosecutor speaks to the seriousness of his commitment to the public good, and whatever other motivations he may have for going in front of the cameras, Comey clearly sees Trump as a threat to the country and sees himself as capable of defending it.
Comey described his reaction to finding out on TV, during a trip to California, that he had been fired less than halfway through his 10-year term.
“That’s crazy,” Comey remembered thinking. “How could that be?” Then Comey got on the FBI plane for the long flight back to Washington.
“I drank red wine from a paper coffee cup and just looked out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home.”
The White House did not reply to a query about whether Trump planned to watch the Comey interview, which was taped earlier in the week. Trump did not tweet during the broadcast.
However, Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chairwoman, said on Twitter that Comey had “no credibility” and “his true higher loyalty is to himself”.