President Donald Trump lashed out at James Comey on Twitter on Sunday morning, dismissing the former FBI director’s Friday testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees as “untruthful” and calling the Russia investigation he discussed a “Rigged Fraud.”
The closed-door testimony — which was released as a redacted transcript on Saturday following a legal dispute over the private nature of the interview — appears to have upset the president, who tweeted that “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful!”
Trump claimed that Comey “told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked” on 245 occasions — a number he might have picked up from watching one Republican committee member’s appearance on Fox News.
While there was plenty of Clinton/email content for Trump to draw upon (as Comey told reporters after the hearing, “When you read the transcript, you will see that we are talking again about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sakes”), the president drew attention instead to Comey’s statements that he opened investigations into four Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign in summer 2016. Trump tweeted that was “all lies!” (Comey had publicly confirmed the FBI was looking into possible collusion back in March 2017.)
On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked. Opened investigations on 4 Americans (not 2) – didn’t know who signed off and didn’t know Christopher Steele. All lies!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2018
“This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President,” the president added. “They are now exposed!”
Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2018
In his congressional testimony, Comey revealed that the FBI’s investigation into campaign staffers’ possible collusion with Russia to sway the presidential election, which began as early as July 2016, launched with probes into four Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign. Comey did not name the individuals, but noted that Trump was not among them, telling Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy:
“We opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort. And those four Americans did not include the candidate.”
When pushed for details, Comey said the FBI “had some reason to suspect that there were Americans who might have assisted the Russians.”
Comey was unwilling to answer questions relating to the ongoing investigation, saying he did not want to compromise it. On Friday, Trump tweeted that he wanted Comey to be allowed to answer questions freely.
It is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
It appears Comey may also be a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, with a lawyer for the FBI telling Gowdy that Comey was a “witness” or “potential witness” into an obstruction of justice investigation, something Trump may have brought upon himself by firing Comey.
The pair have had an antagonistic relationship ever since the president fired the FBI director in May 2017 over his handling of the various election-related investigations. His firing led to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. Comey has since written a book, and called the president “morally unfit” for office.
James Comey agreeing to testify was a big deal
The former FBI director, who in June 2017 testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a very public and widely-watched hearing, was apparently reluctant to testify under closed-door conditions this time, fearing his words would be used to “peddle a distorted, partisan political narrative about the Clinton and Russian investigations through selective leaks.”
Happy Thanksgiving. Got a subpoena from House Republicans. I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions. But I will resist a “closed door” thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion. Let’s have a hearing and invite everyone to see.
— James Comey (@Comey) November 22, 2018
As Elena Sheppard explained for Vox, Comey even filed a lawsuit trying to quash a GOP subpoena that required him to sit for a closed-door deposition, causing a confusing, “melodramatic” controversy:
The long and short of it is this: House Republicans want Comey to testify about Hillary, and her emails, and Russia, and the 2016 election. He said, ‘Okay, let’s do this, but only if you let me do it publicly.’ They, however, want it done in private. The most important element of this whole melodramatic conflict: Comey is accusing the House of asking people to testify in private so that their testimonies can be leaked selectively for political reasons.
Lawyers for the Republican-majority House committee dismissed the lawsuit as “extraordinary and frivolous,” and Comey ultimately dropped it. As a compromise, the committee agreed to release a transcript of the hearing, which they did Saturday afternoon.
With only a few minor revelations inside, it’s mostly flown under the radar in the wake of new developments in the special counsel investigation, not to mention news of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s imminent departure.
Comey’s concerns about partisan leaking may have been assuaged (there’s less of an appetite for selective leaks with a 235-page transcript available) but Trump is certainly still taking his best shot at making it part of a political narrative.