It’s possible that Russian officials have collateral on President Donald Trump, former FBI Director James Comey said during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
On Sunday night, ABC News aired a one-hour special featuring segments from a much longer interview with the former intelligence official, along with other vignettes and backstory setting the stage for Comey’s blockbuster book which is set to be released on Tuesday. The network also published a transcript of the full five-hour interview.
In it, Comey made some stunning statements about President Trump’s relationship with Russia.
Possible ‘kompromat’ on Trump
Comey acknowledged that it is possible that Russia has compromising information about the president.
“Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?” asked Stephanopoulos.
“I think it’s possible,” Comey said. “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.”
“That’s stunning,” Stephanopoulos replied. “You can’t say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians?”
“It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s just– it’s the truth,” Comey said. “I cannot say that. It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I would have been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can’t. It’s possible.”
Papadopoulos sparked the FBI’s Trump investigation, not the Steele dossier
In an attempt to delegitimize the intelligence community’s ongoing Russia investigation, conservatives have asserted that the FBI only began its investigation into the Trump campaign because of the Steele dossier, a controversial memo based on investigative efforts funded first by Republican opponents of Trump and then by Democrats. In fact, it was information first shared by indicted former campaign aide George Papadopoulos that alerted the FBI to possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“What impact did the Steele — the so-called Steele dossier have on the FBI investigation? Did that trigger the FBI investigation in any way?” asked Stephanopoulos.
Comey replied definitively: “No. No, in fact, as I said, the information that triggered it was the Papadopoulos information that came in late July. The FBI didn’t get any information that’s part of the so-called Steele dossier, as I understand it, until after that. And so the investigation was triggered entirely separately from the Steele dossier.”
This was what prompted the FBI to begin its investigation.
Trump didn’t criticize Putin in private
Comey said that Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin even in private “mystified” him:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And the refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin?
JAMES COMEY: I don’t know what’s behind that. I mean, that’s– that mystified me even after President Trump became president ’cause I discovered that he wouldn’t criticize him even in private, which– I can understand a president making a geopolitical decision that, “I ought not to criticize an adversary country’s leader for some reason publicly.” But I discovered President Trump wouldn’t even do it privately, and I don’t know why that is.
Later, asked again about Trump shying away from criticizing Putin, Comey said, “I’m struck by it and I’m struck by it both in public and in private.” He noted that there are diplomatic and strategic reasons to withhold criticism of a foreign leader in public, even when that leader attacks the United States.
“But you would think that in private — talking to the FBI director, whose job it is to thwart Russian attacks, you might acknowledge that this enemy of ours is an enemy of ours,” Comey concluded. “But I never saw. And so I don’t know the reason. I really don’t.”
President-elect Trump did not ask about how to stop future Russian attacks
After explaining his first meeting with Trump as president-elect, where the intelligence community briefed him and his incoming aides on the Russian efforts to attack American democratic institutions, Comey noted that he was struck by what Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and other aides did not ask:
No one, to my recollection, asked, “So what– what’s coming next from the Russians?” You’re about to lead a country that has an adversary attacking it and I don’t remember any questions about, “So what are they going to do next, how might we stop it? What’s the future look like? Because we’ll be custodians of the security of this country.” There was none of that. It was all, “What can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had.”
The Russian foreign minister meeting alone with Trump in the Oval Office is ‘crazy’
The day after Trump fired Comey, he met with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador alone in the Oval Office, and let slip sensitive Israeli intelligence while also calling Comey a “nut job.” Comey said he found it “crazy” that Americans were present.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The day after you were fired– president is meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister. Calls you a nut job. Says the pressure’s been relieved now, the pressure on him has been relieved. What did you think when you saw that?
JAMES COMEY: Wow, was my reaction. First of all, what are the Russians doing in the Oval Office? One, as a counter intelligence person I’m thinking, “That’s crazy–” without any Americans being present, one. And, two, it– the pretense is melting away, the bit about, “You were fired because of how you handled the e-mail investigation,” is melting away. You were fired because of the Russia investigation. That’s the substance of what I heard those words as.
Comey cannot rule out the possibility that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians
Asked if he thought “people tied to President Trump colluded with the Russians,” Comey said, “I don’t know is the honest answer.” He said the FBI was investigating the matter when Trump fired him. “Was anyone aiding the Russians, conspiring with the Russians? There’s no doubt there was smoke around that. Whether there’s fire, I — I didn’t stay long enough to know.”
Donald Trump is weirdly obsessed with the most salacious allegation in the dossier
Of all the revelations detailed in the Steele dossier, the one that raised the most eyebrows involved peeing prostitutes, a hotel room in Russia, and a video. Its mere inclusion in the leaked memo caused many to discredit the whole document, but according to Comey, Trump himself was strangely fixated on it.
During one of his first encounters with Trump, Comey briefed him about the memo.
“I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during the visit for the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had– filmed the episode,” said Comey.
Trump’s response was characteristically self-serving, asking Comey if he looked like someone who would “need hookers.” And, unprompted, Trump later returned to the allegation of a so-called “golden shower,” suggesting the FBI set about to disprove it.
“He brings it up and says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn’t happen,” said Comey. “And then he says– something that distracted me. ‘Cause 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?” I’m a flawed human being, but there is literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true. So what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think there’s only a 99 percent chance you didn’t do that?”