WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump laced into James Comey as an “untruthful slime ball” on Friday as the White House and the national Republican Party mounted a withering counterattack against the former FBI director and his stinging new memoir.
Comey is embarking on a publicity rollout of his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which offers his version of the highly controversial events surrounding his firing by Trump and the Russia and Hillary Clinton email investigations. In the book, Comey compares Trump to a mob boss demanding loyalty, suggests he’s unfit to lead and mocks the president’s appearance.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders stood at the White House podium Friday and called Comey “a liar and a leaker” whose loyalty is “only to himself,” adding that Comey will “be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack.”
Reading from prepared notes, she declared, “This is nothing more than a poorly executed PR stunt by Comey to desperately rehabilitate his tattered reputation and enrich his own bank account by peddling a book that belongs on the bargain bin of the fiction section.”
Anticipating broad media attention for Comey as his book tour gets underway, Sanders scolded reporters in advance for preparing to “cover it endlessly, all day today, all day tomorrow, and my guess is every day next week with very little time given to the issues that people care about.”
Unlike Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury,” which caught the White House unawares when it was published in January, the administration had weeks to polish its rebuttal rhetoric for Comey’s book. Officials responded to the Wolff book by belatedly pointing out factual inaccuracies. In responding to Comey, the White House is choosing not to engage on specific claims, which have been reviewed by lawyers for accuracy, instead launching a broadside effort to undermine Comey’s credibility.
Sanders accused Comey of leaking classified information and breaking his “sacred trust with the president of the United States, the dedicated agents of the FBI and the American people.”
The Republican National Committee helped with the pushback effort against Comey by launching a website and supplying surrogates with talking points that question his credibility.
Comey acknowledged in congressional testimony last year that after he was fired he helped leak his personal, but unclassified, memos of his conversations with Trump to a reporter. In previous testimony, however, he said he never authorized an FBI subordinate to leak information about investigations of Trump or Clinton.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired last month, days before his retirement, following an internal review that accused him of being untruthful about his role in the leaking of damaging information on the Clinton email investigation. McCabe has suggested that Comey authorized the leak — a claim disputed in the independent inspector general report, which says McCabe allegedly misled Comey about the disclosure.
In a Friday tweet, Trump claimed without evidence that “McCabe was totally controlled by Comey – McCabe is Comey!! No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”
White House aides said Sanders’ unusual barrage at Comey reflected Trump’s anger and that Trump was pleased by her performance. Sanders explained Trump’s heated response to the book by attacking the media for giving Comey a platform, saying the president “has every right to call out that individual that you guys are propping up.”
Trump watched cable news coverage Thursday night, angrily taking in segments devoted to Comey’s book, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Trump held his fire on Twitter for a time but unleashed Friday morning while stewing over more coverage. He repeated a favored talking point to one confidant, saying the former FBI director was “grandstanding” in order to make money off Trump’s name.
The president repeated his belief that Comey deserved to be fired and expressed confidence the American public “would see through his lies” and realize Comey he was part of a “deep state” effort to undermine the administration.
In the book, which is to be released Tuesday, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and calls his leadership of the country “ego driven.” The book adheres closely to Comey’s public testimony and written statements about his contacts with Trump and his own growing concern about Trump’s integrity. The Associated Press purchased a copy this week.
The book also includes strikingly personal jabs at Trump that appear designed to irritate the president.
The 6-foot-8 Comey describes Trump as shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggests came from tanning goggles. He says he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so.”