Almost a year after he fired James Comey, a decision described by his top adviser as the one of the “worst mistakes in modern political history”, Donald Trump is confronting a series of both hard-edged and salacious accusations levelled by his former FBI director.
In the most hotly anticipated book to hit Washington since Michael Wolff’s controversial account portraying chaos inside the White House, Comey says in a memoir Trump is both unethical and “untethered to the truth”. He likens his way of working to that of a mob boss, and claims he is driven by ego and personal loyalty, rather than concern for the country.
“The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organisation above morality and above the truth,” Comey writes in A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.
“What is happening now is not normal … It is not fake news. It is not OK.”
Trump ousted Comey 11 months ago, having grown increasingly angry by his handling of an FBI investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. The president dismissed him as “a showboat”, and proceeded to ask officials in the Department of Justice to come up with a reason for firing him.
Yet the move – one that Trump’s then top strategist Steve Bannon said was one of the worst mistakes in modern politics – set in motion the recusal of attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the appointment of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, two events that have come to haunt the president during his first 15 months in office.
Mueller has so far filed indictments against four former members of Trump’s campaign, along with a Dutch lawyer and more than a dozen Russians. Mueller also wants to interview Trump as part of his probe, something the president’s lawyers wish to avoid.
Some of the accusations made of the president by Comey were already covered in testimony he gave on Capitol Hill in the summer of 2017. But there is much new material in the memoir, which he is promoting with a 11-city book tour.
Having had plenty of time to consider what he wants to say about the man who fired him, Comey – who is 6ft 8in – says Trump was shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggested came from tanning goggles.
He writes that he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so”.
One of the most embarrassing and tawdry sections of the book concerns a claim that was contained within the so-called Trump-Russia dossier, which former British spy Christopher Steele helped compile and which Trump dismissed as fake news when it was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017.
Among the claims in the dossier was that Russian had obtained compromising material about Trump during a 2013 visit to Moscow in which he was said to hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed in the city’s Ritz-Carlton hotel that had once been slept in my Barack and Michelle Obama.
Comey writes that although Trump had dismissed the accusation as rubbish, after he entered the Oval Office, he became particularly concerned about it.
“He brought up what he called the ‘golden showers thing’,” Comey says. “It bothered him if there was ‘even a 1 per cent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true … He just rolled on, unprompted, explaining why it couldn’t possibly be true, ending by saying he was thinking of asking me to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him.”
Comey was asked about this in an ABC interview that is due to be broadcast on Sunday night – one of three major television interviews he is to give – and a portion of which was trailed on Friday.
“Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,” he said. “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”
He said he was shocked when Trump said it would be very damaging for his marriage, if there was even a one per cent change that his wife, Melania, believed it could be true.
“I remember thinking, how could your wife think there was even a 1 per cent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other,” he said. “I’m a flawed human being, but there is literally zero chance my wife would think that was true. So what kind of marriage, to what kind of man, does your wife think there is 99 per cent chance it was not true.”
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Comey also reveals new details about his decision-making in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation before the 2016 election, according to the Associated Press.
He says he regretted his approach and some of the wording he used in his July 2016 press conference in which he announced the decision not to prosecute the Democratic candidate. However, he says he stands by his decision to go public, noting that the Justice Department had done so in other high profile cases.
Political observers said they believed the book would have little impact on Trump’s popularity among this supporters.
“It makes no difference at all. The Trump hardcore cult isn’t affected by anything, and they believe nothing that is negative about Trump,” Larry Sabato, director of the Centre of Politics at the University of Virginia, told The Independent.
“All Trump has to do is deny the charges. Of course, everyone else [a majority of Americans] believes Comey completely. Whether you like Comey or not, you know Comey is far more believable than Trump, who has been caught in lie after lie.”
Perhaps because of this, Trump and his supporters have been quick to dismiss the claims contained in the book, which is published by Macmillan and which has an initial print run of 850,000 copies.
On Friday Trump called Comey an “untruthful slimeball” who should be prosecuted for leaking classified information. “It was my great honour to fire him,” the president said on Twitter.
“He is a weak and unethical slimeball who was, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst ‘botch jobs’ of history.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “One of the few areas of true bipartisan consensus in Washington is Comey has no credibility.”
White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said Comey “has a revisionist view of history and seems like a disgruntled ex-employee”.
The publication of Comey’s book, which is already top of the Amazon bestseller list even though it is not public available until Monday, comes as Trump is already fighting fires on several fronts.
Reports say the president is enraged over a recent FBI raid of his personal lawyer’s home and office, raising the prospect that he could fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, or try to shut down the probe on his own.
Trump, along with the leaders of France and the UK, is also debating how best to reposed to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria a week ago, in which up to 50 people were killed. The president has vowed to act, while both Syria and their Russian allies have denied that such an incident took place.