Trump Says Comey ‘Wasn’t Doing a Good Job’ and Assails Democrats

Trump Says Comey ‘Wasn’t Doing a Good Job’ and Assails Democrats

President Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to fire James Comey, the F.B.I. director, telling reporters that Mr. Comey “wasn’t doing a good job” and accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for criticizing the dismissal of a law enforcement chief they too had assailed.

Speaking as photographs were being taken in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump responded to a question about the reason for Mr. Comey’s termination. “He wasn’t doing a good job,” he said. “Very simply. He was not doing a good job,” Mr. Trump said.

Asked whether the furor over the firing had affected his just concluded meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, Mr. Trump said, “Not at all.”

Earlier on Wednesday, in a series of visceral posts on Twitter, the president said he was justified in dismissing Mr. Comey because Democrats and Republicans had lost faith in his leadership. He went on to highlight Mr. Comey’s “scandals” and suggested that a Democratic senator be investigated moments after that senator appeared on television condemning the president’s action.

“Watching Senator Richard Blumenthal speak of Comey is a joke,” Mr. Trump posted. “ ‘Richie’ devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history.”

For years, “as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam — except he was never there,” Mr. Trump added.

When “caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness … and now he is judge & jury,” Mr. Trump continued. “He should be the one who is investigated for his acts.”

The president was referring to an article in The New York Times in 2010 when Mr. Blumenthal first ran for Senate. The story said that Mr. Blumenthal had presented himself as a Vietnam veteran when in fact he served in the Marine Reserves at home and never went to war. The story did not say that Mr. Blumenthal boasted of bravery or conquests, but that he did tell an audience that “I served in Vietnam.”

Mr. Blumenthal went on CNN on Wednesday morning and criticized the president for firing Mr. Comey, who was leading an F.B.I. investigation into contacts between Russia and associates of Mr. Trump’s during last year’s campaign when, according to American intelligence agencies, the Kremlin directed an effort to tilt the election in Mr. Trump’s favor.

Mr. Blumenthal scoffed at the assertion by the Trump administration that Mr. Comey was fired because of concerns about his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year. Mr. Blumenthal said the president had pre-empted an inspector general investigation of Mr. Comey’s actions by firing him with “a pretense that is laughable.”

“I disagreed with James Comey in some of the decisions, but I never advocated he be fired, especially before” the inspector general report, Mr. Blumenthal said. “What we have now really is a looming constitutional crisis that is deadly serious because there is an investigation that is ongoing.”

Other Democrats continued to attack the firing on Wednesday morning, saying Mr. Trump clearly was trying to upend the F.B.I. investigation into the Russian meddling. “It simply defies logic that President Trump, who made the F.B.I. investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails a centerpiece of his campaign, would all of the sudden convert to the view that Clinton was treated unfairly,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, another Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement.

Mr. Trump abruptly dismissed Mr. Comey late Tuesday, saying that the F.B.I. director was “not able to effectively lead the bureau.” While he attributed the decision to the Clinton case, Mr. Trump acted against Mr. Comey just a day after publicly asserting that the Russia investigation should be dropped, calling it a “taxpayer funded charade.”

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the subject Wednesday morning during a visit to Capitol Hill.

“This administration is very confident that with the appointment of a new director of the F.B.I., because of the president’s strong leadership, we will be able to get this nation’s leading law enforcement agency a fresh start,” Mr. Pence told reporters. “Because of the president’s decisive action yesterday to restore the confidence and trust of the American people, we have an opportunity for a new beginning with the F.B.I.”

The vice president did not respond directly to a question about whether the firing was related to the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“It was the right decision at the right time,” Mr. Pence said.

Democrats said that despite their concerns about Mr. Comey’s actions last year, the president’s dismissal evoked the days of President Richard M. Nixon, who ordered the firing of the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate case. They called for the appointment of a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

In his barrage of Twitter posts on Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump sought to turn attention to Democrats who have previously criticized Mr. Comey.

“The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!” Mr. Trump wrote.

“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike,” he added in another post shortly afterward. “When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”

He also retweeted a link to an article listing what it called “10 major F.B.I. scandals on Comey’s watch.”

The posts on Twitter followed a similar one posted late Tuesday night specifically targeting Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader. “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp.”

At a news conference Tuesday evening, Mr. Schumer said he told Mr. Trump that it would be a mistake to dismiss Mr. Comey at the moment when he was leading the Russia investigation. Responding to a reporter’s question, Mr. Schumer made a distinction between his own previous criticism of Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump’s decision to dismiss him now.

“I never called on the president to fire Director Comey,” Mr. Schumer said. “I have a lot of questions about how he handled himself. But the overwhelming question is this: If the administration had the same questions, the event occurred months ago, and they should’ve fired Comey on the day they came into office. All of them occurred before he came into office. So that does not seem to me to be a very logical or persuasive explanation.”

White House officials on Wednesday morning struggled to explain the decision. In a testy exchange on CNN, Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, denied suggestions that Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the Russia investigation. “The idea that you think this is about Russia and not about an F.B.I. director who just yesterday forced his bureau to correct sworn testimony …” she said before being interrupted by the host Chris Cuomo.

Mr. Comey testified mistakenly before a Senate committee on May 3 that Huma Abedin, a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton, had “forwarded hundreds of thousands” of emails to her husband’s laptop. The F.B.I. clarified on Tuesday that the emails included those that were backed up manually, not just ones that were forwarded. Mr. Cuomo expressed skepticism that Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey out of concern for Ms. Abedin.

“This is a president who saw that the F.B.I. director had lost the public confidence of Republicans and Democrats,” Ms. Conway said.

Mr. Trump promised to appoint a credible successor to Mr. Comey, but he gave no indication of when he would do so or who it would be. Any nominee will require confirmation by the Senate.

“James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI,” Mr. Trump wrote on Wednesday morning.

“President Trump wants an F.B.I. director who is impartial, who’s not politicized and who has the confidence and trust” of the agency staff and Republicans and Democrats, Ms. Conway said.

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