Former FBI director James Comey has said Donald Trump is “morally unfit to be president”, who treats women like “pieces of meat”.
Mr Comey was giving his first major television interview since he was fired by President Trump last year.
He told ABC News that Mr Trump lies constantly and may have obstructed justice.
Hours before the interview aired, the president went on the offensive, accusing Mr Comey of “many lies”.
Mr Comey told ABC’s 20/20 programme on Sunday night: “I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia.”
“I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.
“Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that,” Mr Comey said.
After the interview aired, Mr Trump’s party – via the Republican National Committee – released a statement saying Mr Comey’s publicity tour for his new book showed “his true higher loyalty is to himself”.
“The only thing worse than Comey’s history of misconduct is his willingness to say anything to sell books,” it said.
How did we get here?
It is the latest development in a long-standing feud between the two men, further fuelled by the upcoming publication of Mr Comey’s memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.
The ex-FBI chief is on a publicity blitz for the book.
President Trump has said the” badly reviewed book” raises “big questions”. He also suggested Mr Comey should be imprisoned, and in recent days began referring to him as a “slimeball”.
The story dates back to the 2016 presidential election, when Mr Comey was FBI director, and the investigation into Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails on a private server while Secretary of State.
In July 2016, he said that she had been “extremely careless” in her handling of the emails, but the FBI would not press charges.
However, in October, days before the vote, he sent a letter to Congress telling them the FBI was reopening an investigation after finding more emails. The letter went public – and Mrs Clinton says it handed Donald Trump the election.
On 6 November, the FBI said it had completed its review into the new trove of emails and there would, again, be no charges.
Once Mr Trump became president, Mr Comey says he tried to extract a pledge of personal loyalty from him – something the president fiercely denies.
In March 2017, when alleged links between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia were being investigated by the FBI, Mr Trump allegedly pressured Mr Comey to publicly declare that the president was not personally being investigated – something the then director says he declined to do.
Some Democrats blamed Mr Comey for costing Mrs Clinton the election, while Trump supporters felt he was targeting the president with the Russia investigation.
Before revealing the new Clinton investigation, one staff member asked Mr Comey: “Should you consider that what you’re about do to may help elect Donald Trump president?”
Mr Comey said he responded: “Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force”
On the Clinton probe more generally, he said: “The FBI drove this investigation and we did it in a competent and independent way. I would bet my life on that”
He was fired by President Trump in May, finding out about his dismissal from TV news.
What about obstruction of justice?
ABC News has released a full 42,000-word transcript of the interview between Mr Comey and chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
A chunk of the interview deals with the sacking of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on 13 February 2017 for lying about contacts with the Russian ambassador.
A day later, Mr Comey is sitting in the Oval Office with Mr Trump alone – the vice-president and the attorney-general have been asked to leave.
The former FBI head asserts in the interview that Mr Trump tried to pressure him into dropping any investigation in Mr Flynn.
“I took it as a direction,” he told Mr Stephanopoulos. “He’s – his words were, though, ‘I hope you can let it go’.”
Mr Comey says he let the comment pass, but concedes he should perhaps have suggested to the president that it would amount to obstruction of justice.
“It’s certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend and – and I’m just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor, it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent.”
Mr Trump strongly denies Mr Comey’s account.
What else did Mr Comey say?
In the prime-time TV interview, Mr Comey suggested that the president had surrounded himself with people loyal to him – comparing Mr Trump to mob bosses he had investigated as a younger man.
“The loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant centre of everything, it’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’ interests,” he said.
Asked if those around the president were “enabling bad behaviour”, Mr Comey said: “The challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him.”
Mr Comey, however, said he did not believe President Trump should be impeached.
“I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook,” he said.
Instead, he said, it was something the American people were “duty-bound to do directly” at the voting booth.
During the extensive interview, Mr Comey also said:
- “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it – that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds”
- Talking about himself in connection with the Clinton investigation, Mr Comey described himself as “a deeply flawed human surrounded by other flawed humans trying to make decisions with an eye, not on politics, but on those higher values”
- Readers of his book “may still walk out of this thinking I’m an idiot, but I’m an honest idiot”