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WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - James Comey’s callout of Donald Trump’s lies is likely to bog down an already struggling administration. The former FBI director said the U.S. president lied on several occasions, and he illustrated Trump’s knack for self-sabotage. The fresh hits to his credibility can only further hobble the White House’s economic agenda.
The highly anticipated Senate Intelligence Committee appearance by Comey, who was fired in May, didn’t produce a knockout blow. Most of his assertions had already been reported. He also backed the president’s claim that Comey told Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation. The S&P 500 and other markets rose during the hearing.
But in an extraordinary accusation, Comey said Trump lied about him, the FBI and an open investigation. He said he began documenting his encounters with the president after his first meeting in January because he was concerned Trump “might lie” about the discussions. He was also confused by the “shifting explanations” for his firing. The president told Comey the dismissal was based on Justice Department recommendations. Trump later told NBC News it was because of the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties to the Trump campaign. Trump also said the FBI was in disarray. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said.
Comey also said Trump didn’t tell the truth about an FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who resigned in February over misleading statements he made to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with a Russian diplomat. Trump told reporters he hadn’t pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. The former FBI boss claimed otherwise, recalling that Trump said he hoped Comey could see to “letting Flynn go.”
Comey also said he leaked his memos on his Trump meetings to the media after the president indicated in a tweet that he may have tapes of their conversations. He said he hoped his move would spur the appointment of a special counsel. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named in that role last month. His inquiries, and the work of various Congressional committees, will keep the cloud of Russia allegations hanging over the administration.
The White House is already struggling to make progress on trade pacts, tax reform and health care. The picture Comey painted of the president will further undermine the willingness of trade partners and Democrats to deal with him. The self-proclaimed dealmaker could find it more challenging to get to signing on the dotted line.
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