President Trump gave his first press conference in weeks on Friday, appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis a day after James Comey testified that Trump had pressured him to drop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn and fired him for continuing to investigate contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election.
Trump’s prepared remarks mostly focused on the need for NATO members to increase their defense spending and, oddly, Qatar’s continued funding of terrorism—a statement which contradicted one given by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier on Friday. But unsurprisingly, once Trump began taking questions, the conversation turned to James Comey’s testimony before Congress.
At first, Trump essentially just repeated his tweet from earlier in the day, saying that he felt vindicated because the Comey hearing showed “no collusion, no obstruction,” despite the fact that Comey’s testimony very strongly suggested that the president did, in fact, obstruct justice. Just as strangely, Trump acted as if Comey’s testimony was a scandal that resulted from sour grapes over the 2016 election when, in fact, it is one of his own making—Trump fired Comey because he thought it would make the Russia investigation go away.
But the most notable exchange was with ABC’s Jon Karl, who asked Trump if he would testify under oath that he did not pressure Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn or ask for his “loyalty.”
There are two notable things here. The first is that Trump is following in lockstep with the statement issued by his attorney Marc Kasowitz yesterday and is attempting to turn this into a he said-he said, with both himself and Comey presenting contradictory versions of events. While Trump and his attorney had both previously intimated that Comey had lied before Congress (which is a felony) Trump did everything but say “James Comey committed perjury” in the Rose Garden on Friday. The second is that Trump once again hinted that there were secret tapes, twice saying that he would discuss their existence in “a very short period of time,” though he also cryptically said that reporters will be “disappointed” with the answer.
This is all, frankly, crazy. In a very short press conference, the president of the United States accused the FBI director of committing perjury and refused to say if he had a secret taping system. But this is also Trump we’re talking about, and the simplest explanation is that he’s bluffing on both counts as damage control, in order to strengthen his hand. Right now, he’s intimating that he’ll testify under oath and that he (may) release recordings of his exchange with Comey—both things that make it look like he’s as steely in his resolve as Comey. But the safe money right now is that Trump won’t testify under oath and risk possibly perjuring himself or release the tapes (because they probably don’t exist).
There are still two more days of Infrastructure Week.