Former FBI Director James Comey said he was “very much” struck by disinterest within the Trump camp about the nature of Russia’s campaign influence operation and preventing the Kremlin from continuing to attack the United States.
Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership comes out Tuesday. It’s currently No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller list.
His first TV interview to accompany the book release — and his first TV interview since being fired last year by President Trump — will air Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.
The network aired excerpts with Comey and George Stephanopoulos this morning, in which the ABC host asked the former FBI chief about his first meeting with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, at Trump Tower in New York.
“President-elect Trump’s first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election. And then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a P.R. conversation about how the Trump team would position this and what they could say about this. They actually started talking about drafting a press release with us still sitting there,” Comey said. “And the reason that was so striking to me is that that’s just not done; that the intelligence community does intelligence, the White House does P.R. and spin.”
“No one, to my recollection, asked, ‘So what’s coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What’s the future look like?,'” he added. “It was all, ‘What can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had?'”
Comey met alone with Trump to discuss the sensitive details in of the Steele dossier, which in part alleges that Trump had a salacious encounter with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.
“Called out to meet with a person who doesn’t know me, had just been elected president of the United States. By all accounts, and from my watching him during the campaign, could be volatile. 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 recalled of the meeting.
Comey said he didn’t discuss the financing of the Steele dossier with Trump at the meeting; the research was first funded by GOP opponents of Trump during the primary season and then by Democrats. “It wasn’t necessary for my goal, which was to alert him that we had this information,” he said.
The former director said he got “as graphic as I needed to be” describing the dossier’s allegations.
“I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013, during a visit for the Miss Universe Pageant, and that the Russians had filmed the episode,” Comey said. “And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about it, you know, ‘Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?’ And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically. I didn’t answer that, and then I just moved on, and — and explained, ‘Sir, I’m not saying that we credit this. I’m not saying we believe it. We just thought it very important that you know.’ …I never said ‘I don’t believe it,’ because I couldn’t say one way or another.”
Intelligence officials have said parts of the Steele dossier have been verified while other parts have not yet been verified. Comey said the raw intel describing a prostitute encounter was still unverified at the time he left the bureau.
Comey called the briefing “really weird — it was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I was floating above myself, looking down, saying, ‘You’re sitting here briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow.'”
In a private dinner with Trump at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017, Comey said Trump raised the topic again.
“He says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn’t happen, and then he says something that distracted me, because he said, ‘You know, if there’s even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that’s true, that’s terrible,'” the former FBI director said. “And I remember thinking, ‘How could your wife think there’s a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes, peeing on each other in Moscow?’ I’m a flawed human being, but there’s 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 there’s only a 99 percent chance you didn’t do that?”
Comey said Trump told him, “I may order you to investigate that.”
“I said, ‘Sir, that’s up to you, but you’d want to be careful about that, because it might create a narrative that we’re investigating you personally. And second, it’s very difficult to prove something didn’t happen,'” Comey said.
Asked if he believed Trump’s denial, Comey replied, “Honestly, never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know.”
After the excerpt aired, Trump lashed out at Comey on Twitter: “James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst ‘botch jobs’ of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”
Comey last tweeted at Trump on St. Patrick’s Day: “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”