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Comey says it possible Russians have leverage over Trump

Catherine Lucey and Eric Tucker, Associated Press | 4/16/2018, 6:30 a.m.
Former FBI Director James Comey says he thinks it's possible the Russians have compromising information on President Donald Trump, that ...
Former FBI director James Comey appears at an interview with George Stephanopoulos for "20/20" on the ABC Television Network. (Ralph Alswang/ABC via AP)

But the president's attacks on Comey began even before the interview aired.

He seized on an excerpt shown Saturday in which Comey said his belief that Clinton would beat Trump in the 2016 presidential election was probably a factor in his decision to disclose the investigation into her emails. Comey, Trump tweeted, "was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!"

That argument was startling given that Comey's handling of the email investigation, including his disclosure shortly before the election that the FBI had reopened its probe, enraged Democrats. After Clinton's loss, many Democrats blamed Comey, and Clinton herself has said it hurt her election prospects.

Comey again defended his actions, telling ABC that he made what he thought was the best decision at the time. Comey said he did not remember "consciously thinking" about the election results as he decided to disclose that the FBI had reopened its investigation into candidate Clinton's email use. But, he acknowledged, "I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I'm sure that it was a factor."

"I don't remember spelling it out," he added, "but it had to have been that she's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out."

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch pushed back against Comey's criticism in the book that, early in the Clinton email inquiry, she had instructed him to refer to it as a "matter" rather than an "investigation." In a statement Sunday, Lynch said she was simply following longstanding Justice Department protocol against confirming or denying the existence of an investigation.

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, setting off a scramble at the Justice Department that led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Mueller's probe has expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey. So far, 19 people — including Flynn and Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort —have been charged in the investigation. Flynn and two of the president's campaign aides, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with Mueller.

Asked whether he believed Trump ought to be impeached, Comey replied, "I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values."

He added: "But you cannot have, as president of the United States, someone who does not reflect the values that I believe Republicans treasure and Democrats treasure and Independents treasure. That is the core of this country. That's our foundation. And so impeachment, in a way, would short circuit that." -- (AP)