WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday broke his silence on Twitter following explosive testimony by fired FBI Director James Comey, declaring “total and complete vindication.”
Trump’s Twitter account had been quiet throughout Comey’s testimony accusing the administration of spreading “lies.” But a day after the closely watched hearing, Trump struck back with an early morning tweet: “Wow, Comey is a leaker.”
Trump was expected to face journalists later Friday in a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is visiting the White House.
While Trump might feel vindicated, Comey’s reputation as a truth-teller didn’t seem to take a hit. In his testimony, Comey detailed months of distrust of the president and bluntly asserted that Trump had fired him to interfere with the probe of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign.
House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to brush off the conclusion as Trump being new to the White House, but Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, said Congress needs to obtain any tapes the president might have of his dealings with the former FBI director. She called Comey an “honorable individual.”
“I found him to be credible, candid and thorough,” Collins said of Comey on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Also in his testimony, Comey revealed that he’d orchestrated the public release of information about his private conversations with the president in an effort to further the investigation.
Trump’s tweet read: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker.”
Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, said Comey’s motivation “may have been a good one.” But, she said, he was wrong to leak his notes to the public and should have given that document to her panel.
Comey’s testimony provided a gripping account of his interactions with Trump and underscored the discord that had soured their relationship.
He portrayed Trump as a chief executive dismissive of the FBI’s independence and made clear that he interpreted Trump’s request to end an investigation into his former national security adviser as an order coming from the president.
The ex-director’s statement deepened questions about the basis for his May 9 dismissal and about whether Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice. The veteran lawman expressed confidence that could be a matter ripe for investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, though he declined to offer an opinion on whether it met such a threshold.
Trump’s private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, seized on Comey’s admission that he had told Trump on multiple occasions that he was not personally under investigation and maintained the testimony made clear that Trump “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.”
Kasowitz also jumped on Comey’s revelation that he had released details of his private conversations with the president, casting the former FBI director as one of the “leakers” set on undermining the Trump administration.
Still, there was no doubt the veteran lawman made for a challenging adversary.
“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said toward the end of more than two hours of testimony before the Senate intelligence committee. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
“That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me.”
At one point he practically dared Trump to release any recordings of their conversations, a prospect the president once alluded to in a tweet.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said, suggesting such evidence would back up his account over the president’s.
The disclosures that followed Comey’s firing have raised questions about why Comey, known in government for an independent streak and a willingness to buck protocol, did not speak out publicly while on the job, or at least make his objections directly known to the president.
Discussing the meeting in which Comey says Trump asked him to back off Flynn, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked, “Why didn’t you stop and say, ‘Mr. President, this is wrong,’?”
“It’s a great question,” Comey replied. “Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation, I just took it in.”
Comey also made clear that political entanglement in law enforcement has cut across party lines.
During a discussion of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Comey disclosed that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an Obama administration appointee, instructed him to refer to the issue as a “matter,” not an “investigation.”
“That concerned me because that language tracked how the campaign was talking about the FBI’s work and that’s concerning,” he said. “We had an investigation open at the time so that gave me a queasy feeling.”
Many Democrats still blame Comey for Clinton’s loss, leading Trump to apparently believe they would applaud him for firing Comey. The opposite occurred, as the firing created a political firestorm that has stalled Trump’s legislative agenda and taken over Washington.
Under questioning Thursday, Comey reaffirmed the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election.
“There should be no fuzz on this. The Russians interfered,” Comey stated firmly. “That happened. It’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get.”
Trump has begrudgingly accepted that assessment. But he has also suggested he doesn’t believe it, saying Russia is a “ruse” and calling the investigation into the matter a “witch hunt.”