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The Trump Counterpunch Begins in Earnest

President accuses Comey of lying, says he will go under oath for Mueller

President Donald Trump fired back at James B. Comey, accusing the former FBI director of lying and saying he would speak under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump fired back at James B. Comey, accusing the former FBI director of lying and saying he would speak under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump punched back at James B. Comey on Friday, saying the fired FBI director’s testimony to Congress the previous day showed Comey is “a leaker,” turned Comey’s accusation that the president lied back at him and vowed to testify before the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating Russia’s 2016 election meddling.

Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that Trump asked him, while he was still FBI director, to “let go” of a probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s connection to Russian officials. The former bureau chief said he interpreted that as a direction to drop it, and that he believes he was fired for refusing to do so.

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Comey also acknowledged Trump never overtly asked him to drop the entire Russia investigation. Trump cited that, as his outside lawyer has as well, as evidence that there was no collusion or obstruction in his administration. Comey did say he believed that his unwillingness to lift what Trump called the “cloud” of the Russian investigation hindering his ability to govern as another factor in his abrupt termination.

A day later, Trump accused Comey of lying under oath, saying, “frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said, and some of the things that he said just weren’t true.”

Trump answered reporters’ questions with brevity. But he made clear his stance that Comey said nothing to the Intelligence Committee that proved Trump or his campaign associates were in cahoots with Moscow during the election or before he was sworn in, nor that Trump obstructed justice in his private talks with Comey.

Trump told reporters he would be glad to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller, another former FBI director, as part of the Russia probe. And he promised he would tell Mueller just what he told reporters Friday: that he “didn’t say” to Comey that he wanted him to drop a bureau’s probe of Flynn, his first national security adviser to whom he became close during the campaign season.

The president replied “100 percent” when asked if he would deliver such testimony under oath to give his side of the story — just as Comey did on Thursday to the Senate panel.

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And in one of recent history’s more remarkable Rose Garden moments, Trump would not rule out that he has recordings of one or more of his private conversations with Comey. He did vow to disclose more information about that matter in a “short” period of time.

That might turn out to be a short time indeed.

The House Intelligence Committee sent two letters Friday: one to Comey requesting any notes or memos from his conversations with the president, and a second to White House Counsel Don McGahn requesting information on whether recordings or memos exist — or at one point did — of Comey’s talks with the president. The committee gave Comey and McGahn until June 23 to comply.

After the first question about the Comey-Russia matter during a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart, Klaus Iohannis Trump pivoted away.

He told reporters he wants to get back to issues related to “running our great country,” like creating jobs, which was a major campaign promise. The president also expressed a desire to focus on foreign policy issues, such as North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms program, as well as the Middle East. 

Regarding Qatar, home to U.S. military facilities and a diplomatic imbroglio with its Gulf Region neighbors, Trump said, “We ask Qatar and other countries in the region to do more, and do it faster.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the situation with Qatar in much more nuanced remarks to reporters, going so far as to criticize Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for their “blockade” of the small nation, saying it was disrupting American businesses, families and “hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS.”

Ryan Lucas and Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.