Donald Trump appeared to threaten James Comey with the release of “tapes” of their private conversations as he lashed out at the man he fired as FBI director in a flurry of angry morning tweets.
The US president warned the former agency chief against leaking to the press amid conflicting accounts of the events surrounding his explosive sacking this week.
“James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” the president tweeted.
Mr Trump’s outburst came amid growing scrutiny over the White House’s account of how Mr Comey was sacked — particularly its initial claim that Mr Trump had only fired him on the recommendation of his new deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, a claim that Mr Trump laid out in his initial letter of dismissal.
There are differing accounts of a private dinner between the men in January. The New York Times reported that Mr Comey had told associates the president asked him twice at the dinner to pledge loyalty to him. The White House disputed the account and Mr Trump told NBC the dinner was “very nice”.
At two separate press briefings this week, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that Mr Trump had decided to dismiss Mr Comey because Mr Rosenstein had urged him to do so.
Yet on Thursday, she was contradicted by the president himself who, in an interview with NBC News, said he had been planning to fire Mr Comey regardless of Mr Rosenstein’s recommendation.
“I was going to fire regardless of [his] recommendation,” Mr Trump told NBC. The president also for the first time linked the decision to terminate with Mr Comey with the FBI’s investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and a Russian effort to influence the 2016 election in their candidate’s favour.
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
On Friday, Mr Trump defended his press staff and suggested that media briefings should be cancelled. “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Mr Trump tweeted.
“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”