US President Donald Trump attacked former FBI Director James Comey on Friday as a "weak and untruthful slime ball," reacting to news accounts that cited Comey as searingly critical of the president in a memoir due to be published next week.
"It was my great honor to fire James Comey!" Trump said in a series of angry Twitter messages, adding he had been a terrible FBI director.
Trump fired Comey last May and has publicly criticised him since then, but not to this extent. His virulent attack reflected months of simmering anger against a career law enforcement bureaucrat who has emerged as one of his fiercest opponents.
Comey had been investigating allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign. His firing led to the Justice Department appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over the Russia investigation.
Trump has denied any collusion, but the Russia probe has been an open sore on his presidency.
"James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR," Trump said. He also accused Comey of lying to Congress, apparently referring to Comey's Senate testimony last June, when he said he needed to get his account of his conversations with Trump in the public sphere in the hope it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
Comey told lawmakers he had given copies of his memo memorialising his talks with Trump to people outside the Justice Department and asked a friend to share its contents with a journalist.
The former FBI director is doing a series of media interviews before the release next Tuesday of his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of the Republican president, likening him to a mob boss who stresses personal loyalty over the law.
Copies of the book were first obtained by news outlets on Thursday. Reuters has obtained a copy.
The interviews are Comey's first public comments since he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last June, when he accused Trump of firing him to undermine the FBI's Russia investigation.
Comey said at the time the Trump administration had lied and defamed him and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the president dismissed him on May 9.
'Really weird'
In an interview broadcast on Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Comey discussed his initial encounters last year with Trump, who took office on January 20, 2017.
He described Trump as volatile, defensive and concerned more about his own image than about alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election. Moscow has repeatedly denied US intelligence agencies' findings that it interfered in the campaign to try to tilt the November 2016 vote in Trump's favour.
Comey said he cautioned Trump against ordering an investigation into a salacious intelligence dossier alleging an 2013 encounter with prostitutes in Moscow.
The dossier was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele about Trump's ties to Russia and included an allegation that involved prostitutes urinating on one another in a hotel room while Trump watched.
Trump denied the allegations and said he might want the FBI to investigate allegations in the dossier to prove they were not true, Comey told ABC.
"I said to him, 'Sir that's up to you but you want to be careful about that because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally and, second, it's very difficult to prove something didn't happen," Comey said.
Asked how bizarre that meeting with Trump was, Comey said: "Very weird. "Really weird. It was almost an out of body experience for me."
Concern about image
The interview excerpt released by ABC focused largely on that one-on-one briefing on January 6, 2017 just before Trump took office.
Comey said the allegations in the dossier had not been verified at the time he left the FBI.
Before Trump and Comey met alone, US intelligence chiefs briefed Trump and his advisers on Russia's election meddling.
What struck him most, Comey told ABC, was that the conversation moved straight into a public relations mode, what they could say and how they would position Trump.
"No one, to my recollection, asked so what's coming next from the Russians, how might we stop it, what's the future look like," Comey said.
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