Donald Trump may have obstructed justice and is “morally unfit to be president”, according to James Comey, the former FBI director.
In his first interview since being fired by Mr Trump, Mr Comey said it was possible the Russians have compromising material on the US president.
Mr Comey portrayed Mr Trump as a serial liar who treats women like “meat” and acts like a mafia boss by demanding loyalty from those around him.
However Mr Comey fell short of calling for impeachment, saying that such a move would let the American people “off the hook”. Instead he urged them to get out and vote.
Mr Comey was speaking to ABC News to plug his new book, A Higher Loyalty, which paints an excoriating picture of the president he served under for four months.
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Mr Trump pre-empted the interview on Twitter on Sunday by saying Mr Comey was the “worst FBI director in history” and questioning his integrity.
Mr Comey headed up the FBI under Barack Obama and initially continued to work under Mr Trump before being fired on May 9 2017.
Obstruction of Justice
Mr Comey recounted a meeting with Mr Trump in the Oval Office on February 14 2017 in which he believes obstruction of justice may have taken place.
Mr Trump asked all those present including Mike Pence, the vice president, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to leave the room except for Mr Comey.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I knew that whatever it was, it was really, really important that I remember everything that was said,” Mr Comey said.
Mr Comey recalled that Mr Trump urged him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser whose connections with the Russian ambassador were under scrutiny.
He recalled Mr Trump saying: “He’s a good guy, I hope you can let it go.” Mr Comey said his response was simply “he’s a good guy”.
Asked what he was thinking at the time, Mr Comey said: “He’s asking me to drop the criminal investigation of his, now former, national security adviser.”
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Asked if Mr Trump was “obstructing justice”, Mr Comey responded: “Possibly. I mean, it’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.”
The comment is significant as obstruction of justice is one of the grounds for bringing impeachment charges against a sitting president.
It is also an area that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is believed to be investigating.
Trump ‘morally unfit’ for presidency
Mr Comey was clear that he considered Mr Trump to be “morally unfit” to lead the country, citing his comments on the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Asked if Mr Trump was unfit to be president, Mr Comey said: “Yes. But not in the way I often hear people talk about it.
“I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on.
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“I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”
‘Possible’ Russian kompromat on Trump
Mr Comey declined to rule out the possibility that the Russians had some compromising material on Mr Trump.
Asked if he thought “the Russians have something on Donald Trump”, Mr Comey replied: “I think it’s possible. I don’t know.
“These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”
Asked about how “stunning” it was he could not rule it out, Mr Comey said: “It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s just, it’s the truth. I cannot say that.
“It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I woulda been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can’t. It’s possible.”
Mr Comey also did not rule out lurid claims that Mr Trump once asked prostitutes to urinate on each other while in a hotel in Russia – something contained in a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 agent, and repeatedly denied by the president.
Addressing whether the incident actually happened, Mr Comey said: “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”
Impeachment would let people ‘off the hook’
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Mr Comey declined to back calls for Mr Trump to be impeached, saying instead that it was up to the American people to vote with their values.
“Impeachment is a question of law and fact and politics,” Mr Comey initially said to a question on the subject.
Two thirds of members in the House of Representatives and then the Senate would need to approve impeachment for it to come into effect.
Pushed again over whether Mr Trump should be impeached, Mr Comey said: “I’ll give you a strange answer.
“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.”
Mr Comey also warned Mr Trump off firing Mr Mueller, the man leading the Russia election meddling investigation, and urged politicians to react if he does.
“It would, I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law,” Mr Comey said, saying that was above the usual party politics.
He added: “It would be to the everlasting shame of partisans if they were unable to see that higher level and to protect it.”
‘I would do the same again on Clinton emails’
Mr Comey expressed some doubts over the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email scandal but he stuck his most controversial decision.
Just 11 days before the 2016 US election Mr Comey wrote a letter to Congress saying he had reopened the Clinton email investigation.
The letter, which soon leaked, swung momentum on the campaign back in Mr Trump’s favour. Mrs Clinton later blamed it for losing her the election.
Mr Comey admitted that the days after he sent the letter “sucked” and it was a “very painful period” in his life.
He recalled: “My whole life has been dedicated to institutions that work not to have an involvement in an election.
“I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down … I felt like I was totally alone, that everybody hated me.”
However asked if he would still send the letter knowing it would elect Mr Trump, Mr Comey said: “I would.”
He added on the idea of not sending the letter: “Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life.
“If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we’re done.”