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James Comey memoir paints scathing portrait of Trump, rousing GOP furor

James Comey's new book offers unsparing views of President Trump. In "A Higher Loyalty," Comey shares new details about his interactions with Trump, whom he compares to a mafia boss and whose behavior he says is "untethered to the truth." John Yang talks with Yamiche Alcindor and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post about the White House reaction and more.

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  • John Yang:

    Two White House investigations top the news tonight, one reaching back more than a decade.

    Today, President Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, a former top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. It comes 11 years after his conviction for lying to investigators and obstructing justice. We will have more on that after the news summary.

    And in the ongoing Russia investigation, details are emerging from fired FBI Director James Comey's new book, and his scathing views of the president.

    That's where we begin, with Yamiche Alcindor.

  • James Comey:

    I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This today, from an ABC interview, was one of several first peeks at what former FBI Director James Comey is now ready to say about the president who fired him. The interview comes ahead of the release of Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty," containing new details about his interactions with President Trump.

    He writes that Mr. Trump's behavior — quote — "may fall short of being illegal," but that it is also, "untethered to truth, and flouts basic norms of ethical leadership."

    He also compares Mr. Trump to a mafia boss. Comey, who prosecuted mob cases earlier in his career, wrote that with Trump, he saw — quote — "the silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-vs.-them world view."

    There were more personal comments about the president as well. President Trump, Comey said, "appeared shorter than he seemed on a debate stage." And he says of shaking the president's hand, "It was smaller than mine, but didn't seem unusually so."

    In his ABC interview, Comey also discussed Mr. Trump's lack of concern about the threat from Russia, and his apparent fixation on salacious claims made in the now widely-discussed Steele dossier.

  • James Comey:

    And then he says something that distracted me, because he said, "You know, if there's even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible." And I — and I remember thinking, how could your wife think there's a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?

    And I said to him, sir, when he started talking about it, "I may order you to investigate that," I said, "Sir, that's up to you. But you would want to be careful about that, because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally. And, second, it's very difficult to prove something didn't happen."

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Still, Comey himself said in the interview, that particular claim remained unverified when he was dismissed.

    The book also mentions the president's aides. Comey claims that current chief of staff, John Kelly, back when he was secretary of homeland security, called Mr. Trump dishonorable for firing Comey. And Comey criticizes Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not doing more to insulate him from Mr. Trump's pressure.

    This morning, President Trump responded to all of this, by calling Comey — quote — "a weak and untruthful slimeball." He added, "It was my great honor to fire James Comey."

    While briefing reporters today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders didn't mince words.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    I don't think we're surprised by the fact that James Comey continues to spread false information. The guy's known to be a liar and a leaker. Comey's higher loyalty is pretty clear that it's only to himself.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Those comments so far are the most visible parts of the Republican effort to defend the president.

    Online, it's anchored by this Lyin' Comey Web site. It highlights past Democratic rebukes of Comey, and is paid for by the Republican National Committee. Comey has criticized Mr. Trump and his administration before. It happened last year, when Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee after his firing.

  • James Comey:

    The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI, by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But for all of the attention today on select excerpts, the book itself goes public on Tuesday.

    It is clear President Trump is furious about Comey's book. Sarah Sanders spent much of the briefing criticizing Comey, saying he shouldn't be praised, but rather — quote — "put down."

    John, it was one of harshest attacks that I have seen out of this White House, and they're known for not holding back.

  • John Yang:

    Yamiche, thanks a lot.

    Let's stay there while we bring in Phil Rucker, The Washington Post bureau chief — White House bureau chief.

    Phil, you have read this book. What's your takeaway from what you have read?

  • Phil Rucker:

    Well, Yamiche hit some of the high points there.

    I think it's really a scathing portrait of President Trump, not only of his conduct in office, but of his character overall. Comey describes the presidency as a forest fire that has to be contained and he describes Trump as an unethical, amoral leader, a congenital liar, somebody who would manipulate the norms of Washington to play to his personal will and demand loyalty from people that are not expected to give him loyalty.

  • John Yang:

    Yamiche, in the tape spot, you have given us a lot of the public response, but I also know you have been talking privately to people around the president. What are you hearing?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Most of the people around the president say the thing that is really bothering him is the personal attacks that Comey didn't have to put in his book. People expected him to talk about the legal issues.

    But he talks about the president's hands, he talks about the president's hair, he talks about his orange face. There are all these things that people around the president say are really annoying this president.

    And you can tell that they're very annoyed because they're putting out people. They're putting out Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders today and they're trying to push back. And people are saying that the president is feeling the real anger that Comey wanted him to feel.

  • John Yang:

    And, Yamiche, this is a very well-organized, coordinated response.

    You showed us the Web site that the RNC is coordinating. What else are they doing and what else are they saying?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The RNC essentially is really using this Web site as their number one way to push back on this. Republicans are mounting a full-throated, I would say almost partisan attack on James Comey there.

    But they're saying that he is someone who is hated in Washington, that the Democrats hate him, that they are saying he is someone who was rightfully fired. And Republicans, including the president, are really going personal. They're in some ways going toe to toe with how Comey attacked the president.

    They are going after not just the legal aspects, refuting parts of the books saying that Comey talks about the reason why he fired — the reason why he investigated Clinton hasn't really been clear. Sarah Sanders also pushed back on whether or not he had a conversation with President Trump about stopping the investigation into Michael Flynn.

    So they're pushing back on that. But you know what they're not pushing back on? The conversation that the president had with James Comey about the — quote, unquote — "pee tape." They're not saying that that didn't happen.

  • John Yang:

    And, Phil, in your story this morning, you talked about Comey trolling the president with some of these personal remarks. When you read the entirety of the book, does it feel different? Obviously, when you show, you talk about the highlights, him talking about the hands and the color of his complexion…

  • Phil Rucker:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    When you read the entirety of the book, does it feel different?

  • Phil Rucker:

    It does.

    The book taken together in its entirety is a quite serious book on serious, substantive issues. There are a few paragraphs where Comey will write about the president's physical appearance in a way that could be seen as a personal attack, but those are just a few paragraphs.

    Most of the book is about Comey's career, his life, his work on the Clinton e-mail investigation, and, of course, his interactions with President Trump.

  • John Yang:

    And he's also critical, Phil, as you write, of officials in previous administrations like Loretta Lynch.

  • Phil Rucker:

    That's right. That's right.

    He was critical of the Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the later half of the Obama administration for having been sort of weak on the Clinton e-mail investigation. Remember, she got on that airplane in Phoenix on the tarmac in 2016 to have a conversation with former President Bill Clinton, whose wife was the subject of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

    Comey described her as having the sort of awkward half-in, half-out posture with regard to the Clinton investigation, not fully recusing herself, but deferring judgment to the FBI and others at the Justice Department. And the portrait of Lynch is not favorable.

  • John Yang:

    Phil Rucker at The Washington Post, our "NewsHour"'s Yamiche Alcindor, thank you very much.

  • Phil Rucker:

    Thank you.

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