WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump through his outside counsel denied Thursday that he either asked for then-FBI Director James Comey’s loyalty or suggested he drop his probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — directly contradicting key testimony Comey just had given under oath.
Attorney Marc Kasowitz’s comments at a news conference served as one of the only windows into Trump’s thinking during and after Comey’s appearance at a Senate hearing Thursday, as the president’s personal Twitter account remained uncharacteristically quiet.
“The president never — in form or substance — directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone . . . never suggested that Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go,’” Kasowitz, a Manhattan-based lawyer, said at the National Press Club.
“The president also never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’ — in form or substance,” he added.
In his testimony, Comey said Trump sought a pledge of loyalty, and told Comey he hoped he would drop the Flynn investigation.
Kasowitz commended some parts of Comey’s testimony, calling Comey’s account of notifying Trump that he wasn’t personally under investigation as vindication for the President.
Kasowitz denounced other parts, including Comey’s admission that he leaked a memo through a friend to the news media after his ouster. Kasowitz called the move “entirely retaliatory.”
In a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition Thursday, Trump stuck largely to his prepared remarks and made no direct reference to Comey.
Trump spoke generally about his opponents, saying, “They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice . . . We know that the truth will prevail.”
In Trump’s absence from Twitter, his son Donald Trump Jr. acted as his most prominent and prolific defender on the social media site.
“Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well. I hear ‘I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job,’” Trump Jr. wrote. He called that, “very far from any kind of coercion or influence and certainly not obstruction!”
Comey had said he took the president’s statement about letting Flynn go as a directive.
Trump Jr., an executive in his father’s real estate company, also said: “Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means”
At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders also criticized Comey’s characterization of Trump.
Comey described as “lies, plain and simple” Trump’s public account of the circumstances surrounding his May 9 firing.
“I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” Huckabee Sanders said. “I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.”
She told reporters she didn’t know whether Trump made tapes of his Oval Office conversations with Comey, as the president warned in a May 12 tweet.
“Sure, I’ll try to look under the couches,” she responded when asked if she could find out about any secret recording system.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey told senators Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor said he found it “awfully curious” that the White House won’t confirm or deny the existence of tapes.
“It is clear that President Trump’s legal defense is to refute Mr. Comey’s account,” Schumer said. “Well, the President threatened Mr. Comey with the release of tapes of their conversations. Presumably that includes the conversation when President Trump asked Director Comey to ‘let go’ of the Flynn investigation.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Comey’s testimony “makes clear that he expects Special Prosecutor [Robert] Mueller will investigate obstruction of justice by the President.”
At a news conference earlier in the day, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he believes Trump wasn’t yet aware of whether his actions were appropriate.
“He’s new at government, so therefore I think he’s learning as he goes,” Ryan said.