Trump tells Comey not to talk to media
Donald Trump has warned ousted FBI Director James Comey not to talk to the media, a highly unusual move that prompted fresh charges the president is trying to silence the man who led an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.
On Twitter, Trump appeared to suggest that if Comey gave his version of contacts between them, the administration might produce tapes of conversations, although it was not clear if such tapes exist.
The veiled threat added to the storm over Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey on Tuesday.
Critics have assailed Trump for dismissing the FBI chief at a time when the agency is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, and possible Moscow ties to the Trump presidential campaign.
The New York Times reported that the president asked Comey in January to pledge loyalty to him, which it said Comey refused to do. Such a request would undermine the standing of the FBI chief as an independent law enforcer and further fuelled charges that Trump has overstepped the norms of his office.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump said in a string of Twitter posts on Friday morning.
CBS Evening News, citing a source who has spoken with Comey, said on Twitter that Comey hopes there are “lots of tapes.” CNN said Comey is “not worried about any tapes” Trump may have, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation probe and parallel congressional investigations have cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency since he took office on January 20, threatening to overwhelm his policy priorities.
Democrats accuse the Republican president of trying to dent the FBI probe by firing Comey, and have called for a special counsel to investigate the Russia issue.
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin, went further on Friday and said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should appoint an independent special prosecutor to pursue possible criminal charges in relation to Comey’s firing, although he did not specify if he meant such charges should be against Trump.
In a statement, Durbin said that what he characterised as Trump’s admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia probe was “dangerously close to obstruction of justice.”
Durbin added that Trump’s tweet on Friday “could be construed as threatening a witness in this investigation, which is another violation of federal law.”
As has happened on previous occasions since Trump took office, different versions rapidly circulated of an event, in this case phone conversations between Comey and Trump and a dinner the pair had at the White House.
The New York Times said Comey told associates he declined to make a pledge of loyalty to Trump when the president requested it while they dined just seven days after his inauguration. Comey instead told Trump he could count on his honesty, the Times said.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing that Trump did not demand Comey’s loyalty.
The president said he never pressured Comey into dropping the FBI probe, and added that there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.”