White House lawyers say President Donald Trump feels totally vindicated by the damning allegations by former FBI Director James Comey that he was pressured by the president to drop the bureau investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The outside lawyer Marc Kasowitz said Trump is pleased that Comey – whose prepared testimony ahead of Thursday’s Senate intelligence committee appearance became public Wednesday – has finally publicly confirmed that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe.
“The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda,” said Kasowitz, the White House outside counsel.
Comey confirmed in the written testimony that he had told Trump that he was not personally under investigation.
Comey said he told then-president-elect Trump on Jan. 6 in a briefing in Trump Tower that Trump himself was not being investigated. Before that meeting, he spoke with the FBI’s leadership team about whether he should tell Trump the agency was not investigating him.
“That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted,” Comey wrote. “During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.”
The White House had to cobble together a quick defense of Trump late Wednesday after the sudden release of damning allegations by Comey that he was pressured by the president to drop the bureau investigation of Flynn.
“I can’t imagine the president not standing by his own statement, but for questions specific to Director Comey I would have to refer you to the president’s outside counsel,” said Deputy Press Secretary the Sarah Huckabee Sanders to reporters.
In his statement, Kasowitz did not deny any of the allegations in Comey’s testimony.
The Trump administration was caught by surprise Wednesday when Comey’s seven-page prepared testimony was released to the public showing that he will testify to senators that Trump sought his “loyalty” and asked Comey to “lift the cloud” that was impairing the president’s ability to act on behalf of the country. Trump was referring to the Russia investigation and questions about whether he was under investigation.
While the president was in Ohio talking about healthcare and infrastructure, White House staff hunkered down for a tough afternoon. Some top staffers kept their doors closed as televisions screens looped the allegations. All questions on the Comey testimony were referred to the outside counsel, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Vice President Mike Pence suddenly canceled a previously scheduled interview with PBS NewsHour, according to executive producer Sara Just. And when Trump returned to the White House just before 4 p.m., he ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether he was concerned about Comey’s testimony.
In Comey’s prepared testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the former FBI director said Trump told him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” during a Jan. 27 dinner – one of nine conversations he had with the president.
“I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey wrote.
Comey added that he told Trump “you will always get honesty from me.” The president responded, “that’s what I want. Honest loyalty.”
Comey testified how uncomfortable he felt meeting privately with Trump and asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump.
Any question of whether Comey would accuse Trump of obstructing justice were likely answered when Comey said that Trump repeatedly pressed him to find a way to let the investigation of Flynn go.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to Comey’s written testimony.
Last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him.
“No,” Spicer said during a daily press briefing when asked whether Trump made such a demand. “The president wants loyalty to this country and to the rule of law.”
While the White House refused to answer specific questions about the testimony, surrogates including, the Republican National Committee, quickly came to Trump’s defense focusing on the fact that the FBI was not investigating Trump personally.
“President Trump was right,” said RNC Chairwoman McDaniel. “Director Comey’s statement reconfirmed what the president has been saying all along - he was never under investigation.”
Saunders did question the timing of the release following an earlier hearing of four intelligence officials who refused to answer questions on Trump and Russia. She would not give specifics.
Kate Irby and Teresa Welsh contributed to this report.