President Donald Trump alleged that former FBI Director James Comey is guilty of leaking classified information to prompt a special counsel’s appointment, and he accused his own Justice Department of inaction in order to engage in a “witch hunt” against him.
“He leaked classified information in order to try and get a special counsel,” Trump said of Comey in a phone interview with Fox’s program “Fox & Friends” on Thursday. “He is guilty of crimes and if we had a Justice Department that was doing their job instead of spending $8 million trying to find –”
“It’s your Justice Department!” a Fox host said, interrupting Trump.
“You’re right,” the president responded before lashing out at the Justice Department, which appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign was involved. Trump said he has tried to keep a hands-off approach to the department during the Mueller probe but that he may change his mind.
“They have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on,” Trump said. “I’ve taken the position — and I don’t have to take this position and maybe I’ll change –that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait until this is over. It’s a total — it’s all lies and it’s a horrible thing that’s going on.”
“I’m very disappointed in my Justice Department,” he said.
Trump’s comments were lambasted by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, who said in a tweet, “Mr. President, it’s not YOUR Justice Department. It’s the AMERICAN PEOPLE’S Justice Department. And you’ve already improperly interfered with it more than any president since Nixon. Your rant this morning undermines the rule of law.”
A bill to protect Mueller from being fired without cause won bipartisan support Thursday in a 14-7 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it won’t get a vote on the Senate floor.
Read more: Mueller Protection Bill Wins Bipartisan Support From Panel
In the interview, Trump was asked if he’d sit down with Mueller’s team. He said he would be willing to if he was able, although he said that some of the people involved are “conflicted.”
“If you take a look, they’re so conflicted. The people that are doing the investigation — you have 13 people that are Democrats. You have Hillary Clinton people, you have people who have worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation,’’ Trump said. “I love the FBI, the FBI loves me. But the top people in the FBI, headed by Comey, were crooked.”
Trump had praised Comey for his honorable conduct during the 2016 campaign, solicited his loyalty, and asked him to let go of an investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to memos turned over to House lawmakers last week that Comey wrote to document private conversations between the two.
After the contents of the memos were released, Trump wrote on Twitter that they “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”
On Thursday, Trump took issue with Comey for saying in his memos that during a meeting they had Trump said he never spent the night in Moscow when his Miss Universe pageant was held there in 2013. Comey recounted in the memos that Trump made the assertion to dispute some of the salacious and unverified information contained in a British spy’s dossier about whether the Russians had material to use to blackmail Trump.
“He said I didn’t stay there a night,” Trump told the Fox interviewers, adding that he went to Russia “for a day or so.” “I never said I left immediately.”
Trump and Comey have traded shots since the days before the release of the former lawman’s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.” Trump’s called Comey a “slimeball” and accused him of improperly leaking information. Last week, the president called Comey’s book “third-rate” and lamented that Flynn’s life was destroyed while “Shadey James Comey” can make lots of money.
Comey has said he didn’t leak any classified information when he provided one of his memos to a friend. As recently as a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, he said Trump isn’t morally fit for office.