James who? Trump paints Comey as a stranger

WASHINGTON (AP) — James who?

President Donald Trump contended in recent days that he didn’t know his FBI chief, James Comey, well enough to lean on him for his loyalty.

That was one of a number of claims by the president that called for scrutiny in the fierce backwash of Comey’s accusations in Senate testimony that Trump exerted improper pressure on him to back off an FBI investigation.

A review of some statements from the president and his people on the Russia investigation, NATO, health care and more:

TRUMP: “I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’ — tweet Sunday

THE FACTS: Cowardice and courage are in the eye of the beholder. As to Trump’s question about the legality of Comey’s disclosures, there’s scant expert opinion that the fired FBI chief broke the law when he released memos he wrote of his private conversations with Trump.

Several Republican lawmakers, though admiring of his testimony to Congress last week, said it was “inappropriate” for Comey to give the memos to a friend for the purpose of making them public. But few are alleging criminal behavior. “Releasing his memos is not damaging to national security,” Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said Sunday.

Trump actually was ahead of Comey in disclosing content from their private meetings and phone calls. When he fired the director, Trump revealed that Comey had assured him he was not under FBI investigation. Comey said he resisted pressure from Trump to make that fact public because the investigation might expand to include the president.

Trump’s legal team has accused Comey of leaking “privileged information.” It’s not clear the memos meet that standard. When information is privileged, the Freedom of Information Act cannot be used to force its disclosure. But any of the participants in the discussion are still free to make it public, says Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists.

“The other peculiar thing about this whole discussion is that the claim of privilege supports the accuracy of Comey’s account,” he said. “Privilege can only apply to accurate information.”

——

TRUMP: “Because of our actions, money is starting to pour in to NATO. The money is starting to pour in. Other countries are starting to realize that it’s time to pay up and they’re doing that. Very proud of that fact.” News conference Friday

THE FACTS: Money is not pouring in and saying it twice does not make it so. This account of NATO finances is one of Trump’s favorite concoctions.

The real issue is how much NATO countries spend on their own military budgets. They agreed in 2014, well before he became president, to stop cutting military spending, and have lived up to that. They also agreed then to a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024. Most are short of that and the target is not ironclad.

Trump knows how it works but cannot resist telling the more dramatic and false tale of NATO leaders sending in money because he pushed them to.

——

TRUMP on Comey: “I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean think of it, I hardly know the man. It doesn’t make sense.” — Trump news conference Friday

THE FACTS: How well Trump knows a person varies. It depends on how well he wants to be seen as knowing that person at the time.

Bragging early in the campaign about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said “I got to know him very well because we were both on ’60 Minutes’,” even though they were on different segments from different locations. When perceived closeness became a potential liability, Trump took to saying, “I don’t know Putin.”

In August 2016, when the Trump campaign announced the hiring of Steve Bannon as campaign CEO and the appointment of Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager, its statement quoted Trump as saying: “‘I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years.”

COMMENTS