(Reuters) President Donald Trump said he was vindicated and derided James Comey as a “leaker” on Friday after the fired FBI director accused him of lying and trying to quash an investigation into a former national security adviser.
Trump broke his silence on Comey’s damning congressional testimony with a single tweet that echoed the points made by his private lawyer after Thursday’s hearing: Trump himself was not under investigation and Comey gave an account of his conversation with the president to a lawyer who shared it with a news outlet.
“Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump tweeted in his first comments since Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
The Republican president stopped short of saying that Comey lied under oath.
In the highly anticipated hearing, Comey delivered a scathing indictment of Trump, accusing him of trying to block a probe into ties between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, and saying the White House defamed him and the FBI in explaining his dismissal by Trump last month.
The probe into Flynn was part of a wider FBI investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with Trump campaign aides. In the hearing, Comey did not disclose any links between Trump advisers and alleged Russian meddling.
Russia has denied such interference. The White House has denied collusion with Moscow.
Comey told the Senate panel he took meticulous notes of each meeting or conversation he had with Trump because “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”
Comey testified that Trump told him on Jan. 26 he expected loyalty from the FBI director and the next month urged him to drop the Flynn probe. “I hope you can let this go,” Comey reported the president as saying in a Feb. 14 meeting.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, disputed both statements after Thursday’s hearing, essentially pitting the two accounts against each other.
Asked on Friday which version she would believe, Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins said it was possible Comey misremembered or misinterpreted some of their exchanges.
“But he testified under oath and I do believe that he’s an individual of integrity who would not deliberately lie under oath,” Collins told CNN. “I tend to place more credence in testimony that’s given under oath.”
The Russia issue has cast a shadow over the early months of Trump’s presidency. Comey’s firing on May 9 set off a political firestorm, raising suspicions among Democrats and others that the White House was trying to blunt the FBI probe.
COMPLAINT OVER SHARED MEMO
Comey told the Senate panel that he shared an unclassified memo about his February conversation with Trump about Flynn because he hoped it would lead to the appointment of a special counsel. After news reports in mid-May about the conversation, the Justice Department did just this, appointing Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to oversee the Russia probe.
Kasowitz attacked Comey after his testimony for leaking what he called “privileged communications” to the media. Legal experts questioned whether Trump’s private encounters with Comey could be considered privileged.
Kasowitz plans to file a complaint early next week about Comey’s disclosure of conversations with the president, a person close to the legal team said on Friday.
He will file the complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general and also make a “submission” to the Senate’s judiciary and intelligence committees about Comey’s testimony.
Comey’s testimony added fuel to critics’ accusations that Trump’s actions around the Russia probe might have amounted to obstruction of justice.
Collins said she believed Trump did not understand the boundaries between the White House and FBI.
“It is totally wrong – I’ll go beyond inappropriate – it is wrong for the president of the United States to tell or imply to an FBI director that an investigation should not go forward,” she told CNN.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Frances Kerry)