President Donald Trump and his top aides wasted no time in launching pointed attacks on former FBI Director James Comey on Friday over his bombshell tell-all book — and the offensive is only expected to intensify in the coming days.
White House officials were scouring news reports and reaching out to allies who have copies of the book, hoping to home in on passages that they believe undercut Comey’s credibility or make him seem sympathetic to Democrats.
Trump’s allies are trying to avoid a repeat of the fallout from Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” the hard-edged insider account of life in Trump’s White House that caught many in the West Wing by surprise and dominated headlines for weeks.
But so far, the White House’s strategy was doing little to stop the barrage of news stories about the book.
Over the last 24 hours, a steady stream of embarrassing details from the book have emerged, including that chief of staff John Kelly allegedly called Trump “dishonorable” for firing Comey and that the president urged Comey to investigate unsubstantiated rumors that he was secretly filmed with prostitutes urinating in front of him in a Moscow hotel room. The New York Daily News pounced on the latter revelation with a front-page headline that read, “Pee Brain.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is expected to offer a harsh rebuke of the book during Friday’s televised briefing, according to a White House official, and Trump’s top aides will echo that message in television interviews in the coming days.
Trump, for his part, is said to be fuming about the book, and White House aides are angry over what they see as Comey’s unnecessarily personal jabs at the president, the official said.
In the book, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, Comey, in describing his first meeting with the president in January 2017, wrote, “His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his. I remember wondering how long it must take him in the morning to get that done. As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
Trump unleashed on Comey on Friday morning.
“James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH,” Trump wrote in a statement that stretched across two Twitter posts. “He is a weak and untruthful slime ball 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. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”
The feud is unlikely to dissolve quickly as Comey is embarking on a media blitz as part of his book tour. ABC News ran excerpts of the first interview with him on Friday, and he has interviews scheduled for the coming weeks on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and PBS, and is slated to tour for more than a month with stops in 11 different cities.
Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, told reporters at the White House Friday morning that Comey was taking "unnecessary immature potshots" at Trump.
“I’ve spent more time in the Oval Office in a given day than this man got to spend with the president over the course of his very brief tenure before he was fired,” she said during a separate interview with “Fox and Friends,” adding, “He’s taking one or two or three meetings with the president and retroactively putting his own spin on them to sell books. It seems to me like he sounds like a disgruntled ex-employee who after the fact wants to clear his conscience of what bothered him at the time.”
Even before excerpts of the book emerged, the Republican National Committee had launched a website seeking to discredit Comey, called lyincomey.com. The White House had outsourced much of the nitty-gritty of the response to the RNC.
Some in the White House believe the book gives them plenty of ammunition to attack Comey from another angle: as a sympathizer of former President Barack Obama.
Comey’s book offers portraits of a number of powerful Washington officials, and almost none come off as well as Obama, who appointed Comey to lead the FBI in 2013. Comey admits that he did not vote for Obama, and financially supported his opponents, but writes glowingly of the Obama he came to know, describing him as “an extraordinary listener” and a man of kindness and intellect.
“I had developed great respect for him as a leader and a person,” Comey writes at one point.
One central scene comes after the 2016 election, when Obama asks to speak with Comey privately after a White House meeting. Comey writes that he felt he had become something of a pariah at the White House, and that some there disdained him for his handling of the email investigation late in the election.
“I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability,” Comey recalls Obama saying. “I want you to know that nothing – nothing – has happened in the last year to change my view.”
“Boy, were those words I needed to hear,” Comey writes. “I felt a wave of emotion, almost to the verge of tears. President Obama was not an outwardly emotional man in these kinds of meetings, but still I spoke in unusually emotional terms to him.”
In a passage that has ruffled feathers in White House, Comey adds: “I paused and then decided to add something. Maybe it was what I believe a large portion of the country was feeling. ‘Mr. President, my wife would kill me if I didn’t take the opportunity to thank you and to tell you how much I’m going to miss you.’ Although I hadn’t supported President Obama when he ran for office, I had developed great respect for him as a leader and a person, and it was only at that moment that I felt the full weight of his imminent departure and what it would mean. Unable to help myself, I added, ‘I dread the next four years, but in some ways, I feel more pressure to stay now.’”