President Trump’s private lawyer on Thursday disputed key details of former FBI Director James Comey’s congressional testimony and accused him of improperly leaking “privileged communications” with the president.
Marc Kasowitz, the president’s outside attorney, said that Comey “admitted” to sharing the contents of memos recounting the fired director’s private interactions with Trump with a friend, who then leaked them to the press.
“Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president,” Kasowitz said, suggesting Comey may have committed an offense.
He also said there are people in the government committed to undermining Trump “with selective and illegal leaks of classified information” and communications, a nod to the administration’s argument that it is in constant battle with a “deep state” of government employees.
“We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether these leaks should be investigated along with all those others being investigated,” the attorney said.
Comey in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, said that after he was fired by Trump, he leaked notes of his conversations with the president to the media through a friend in the hopes it would lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Comey said his decision was prompted by Trump’s suggestion, made on Twitter three days after his firing, that he may have secret recordings of their conversations — something the White House has neither confirmed nor denied.
“My judgement was, I need to get that out into the public square,” Comey told the intelligence panel. “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons. I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Comey, who was testifying under oath, said he is “sure” that special counsel Robert Mueller is now looking into whether Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice.
In a six-and-a-half minute statement at the National Press Club — after which he took no questions — Kasowitz strongly pushed back on the notion that Comey’s testimony could lead to trouble for Trump.
The lawyer said Comey “finally confirmed” that Trump was personally not under investigation by the FBI in its Russia probe, adding that the president “never sought to impede” the inquiry.
Kasowitz added that Trump “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested” that Comey should stop investigating anyone, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, directly contradicting the former FBI director’s claim.
The blunt remarks and denials of the former FBI director’s allegations are in keeping with Trump’s reputation for counter-punching, and indicates the legal team led by Kasowitz intends to take a hard-nosed approach in pushing back against Comey.
But critics accused Kasowitz of making a statement that was riddled with errors and dubious claims.
For example, Comey was a private citizen when he leaked the memos, which he said were unclassified.
Kasowitz also tried to undermine Comey’s claims by saying The New York Times was “quoting” from the memos a day before Trump’s May 12 tweet about possible recordings. But the first Times story based on contents of the memos was published on May 16.
The White House decided not to invoke executive privilege to block all or part of Comey's testimony, saying it wanted to “facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts.”
Trump and his White House staff appeared content on Thursday to let Kasowitz take the lead on responding to Comey.
The president did not address the former director’s claims during a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington or on Twitter. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred all questions about Comey’s testimony to Kasowitz, other than to deny that Trump is a “liar.”
Trump’s eldest son, Donald, Jr., did leap to the president’s defense in a Thursday morning tweet storm.
“I’m pretty sure that Comey's testimony put his own ‘character’ on trial. Leaks, admitted weakness, Lynch double standard. Come on now,” he tweeted.