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story.lead_photo.caption In this image released by ABC News, former FBI director James Comey appears at an interview with George Stephanopoulos that will air during a primetime "20/20" special on Sunday, April 15, 2018 on the ABC Television Network. Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership," will be released on Tuesday. (Ralph Alswang/ABC via AP)

WASHINGTON -- James Comey said Sunday that he thinks there's "certainly some evidence of obstruction" by President Donald Trump -- a statement that aired hours after Trump suggested the "slippery" former FBI director should be imprisoned.

ABC aired one hour of its five-hour conversation with Comey, who was fired by Trump last year. A transcript of the complete interview shows that Comey called Trump "morally unfit to be president," a serial liar who treated women like "meat," and described him as a "stain" on everyone who worked for him.

Comey told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that it was "possible" the Russians had material that could be used to blackmail Trump.

He also said "possibly" when asked whether the president was attempting to obstruct justice when he asked Comey to end an FBI investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump has denied that conversation, but Comey insisted that it occurred.

Despite his concerns, Comey said he would not favor impeaching Trump because that "would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty-bound to do directly" -- meaning through elections.

The comments were made in Comey's first interview since writing his memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, which is scheduled for release Tuesday.

In the book, Comey described the interactions he had with Trump, including meetings and phone calls about which he said he meticulously wrote down notes afterward for posterity. Excerpts had already been widely reported, prompting a series of critical tweets from Trump earlier Sunday.

"I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty," Trump said on Twitter. "I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His 'memos' are self serving and FAKE!"

The president on Sunday questioned Comey's intelligence and place in history, writing, "Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!"

Trump also asked of Comey on Twitter, "how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail)."

Asked if the president wanted the Justice Department to investigate Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday on ABC's This Week that she was not aware of a specific request. But, she said, "if [Justice Department officials] feel there was any wrongdoing, they should certainly look into that just as they do on a number of other topics."

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, part of a series of events at the Justice Department that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller's probe has expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.

MAFIA BOSS REFERENCE

In the ABC interview, Comey, who ran the FBI for almost four years, described a one-on-one dinner during which, he says, Trump demanded his loyalty.

"And I said, 'You will always get honesty from me,'" Comey recalled. "And he paused and then he said, 'Honest loyalty,' as if he was proposing some compromise or a deal. And I paused and said, 'You'll get that from me.'"

That dinner felt like a mob initiation of sorts, Comey said in the interview.

"I'm not trying to, by the way, suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and, you know, shaking down shopkeepers," Comey said. Instead, it was reminiscent of "the loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything. It's all about how do you serve the boss, what's in the boss's interests. It's the family, the family, the family, the family."

On Sunday, before the ABC interview aired, Comey tweeted that his book draws on stories from his life and from lessons he has learned from others.

"3 presidents are in my book: 2 help illustrate the values at the heart of ethical leadership; 1 serves as a counterpoint," he wrote. "I hope folks read the whole thing and find it useful."

Comey's memoir offers his version of the events surrounding his firing and the investigations into Russian election meddling and into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's email practices.

After Clinton's loss, many Democrats blamed Comey's October 2016 disclosure that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Clinton's email practices.

In the ABC interview, Comey said he believed it would have been extremely damaging to the credibility of the FBI if the reopened investigation did not come to light until after the election.

"If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done," he said. "We're no longer that group in America that is apart from the partisans, and that can be trusted."

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In an excerpt that aired Saturday, Comey said, "I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been that she's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out."

Trump seized on that Sunday, saying Comey "was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!"

The admission by Comey has drawn condemnation from others, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who worked closely with Comey as U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

"It is exactly what they teach you not to do," Christie said on ABC, adding, "The hubris he shows in that interview is extraordinary to me. Not the guy I worked with or worked for."

And Sanders said Sunday that the admission was a reason that critics believe "James Comey doesn't have credibility and shouldn't have been leading the FBI any longer."

"Give me a break," Sanders said. "The guy knew exactly what he was doing. He thought Hillary Clinton would win. And he thought this would give him some cover. He thought that he made these decisions based on the political landscape and not on the facts of the case. And when the person that is supposed to lead the highest law enforcement agency in our country starts making decisions based on political environments instead of on what is right and what is wrong, it's a really dangerous position."

FORMER AG LYNCH

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch pushed back against Comey's criticism in the book that, early in the Clinton email inquiry, she had instructed him to refer to it as a "matter" rather than an "investigation."

In a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday, Lynch said she was simply following longstanding Justice Department protocol against confirming or denying the existence of an investigation. She also said that Comey never raised any concerns with her regarding the email investigation.

On Sunday, Trump wrote on Twitter, "Comey throws AG Lynch 'under the bus!'"

Lynch had also been criticized for a June 2016 meeting with former President Bill Clinton at a Phoenix airport. Lynch said the discussion did not involve the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use, and a Bill Clinton aide said the meeting came because "[Clinton and Lynch] realized they were both sitting on the same tarmac." Lynch was traveling with her husband and said Clinton asked to board Lynch's plane, where the conversation "was a great deal about his grandchildren" and their travels.

Trump cited that meeting in the same tweet, writing, "Why can't we all find out what happened on the tarmac in the back of the plane with Wild Bill and Lynch? Was she promised a Supreme Court seat, or AG, in order to lay off Hillary. No golf and grandkids talk (give us all a break)!"

House Speaker Paul Ryan declined to take sides in the dispute during an interview broadcast Sunday.

Chuck Todd, host of NBC's Meet the Press, asked Ryan during the interview taped Friday whether he agreed with Trump's description of Comey as a "slimeball" -- a term Trump used Sunday and on April 13 to describe Comey.

"I don't speak like that," he said, adding: "By the way, I wouldn't do that because you're going to help him sell books. So I've met him two or three times in two or three briefings. I don't really know the guy. I'm not trying to be evasive. But what I don't want to do is ... join some food fight, some book-selling food fight. I don't see any value in that."

Information for this article was contributed by Catherine Lucey and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press; by Ros Krasny and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News; and by Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis, Greg Jaffe and Carolyn Johnson of The Washington Post.

A Section on 04/16/2018

Print Headline: Trump 'morally unfit,' Comey tells interviewer

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