Updated at 3:35 p.m ET
President Trump’s outside lawyer flatly denied that the president ever asked former FBI Director James Comey for a pledge of loyalty, and he accused Comey of disclosing privileged communications with the president to the news media, without authorization.
Trump’s attorney, Marc Kasowitz, went on the offensive only a couple of hours after Comey concluded his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee — a highly anticipated performance that was broadcast live on national television.
Kasowitz highlighted Comey’s most favorable point for the president: that Trump was not personally the target of an FBI investigation. But he challenged Comey’s account of a private dinner he had with the president on Jan. 27, during Trump’s first full week in the White House.
The president “never told Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’ in form or substance,” Kasowitz said in a statement, rebutting Comey’s testimony that Trump appeared to be trying to create a patronage relationship with the FBI director.
Comey said he was so concerned by the dinner, and the perceived threat to the FBI’s independence, that he documented that and other meetings with the president in personal memos. After he was fired, Comey asked a friend to leak the contents of a memo about an Oval Office meeting that he had with Trump to a newspaper reporter.
“Comey’s excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information … appears to be entirely retaliatory,” Kasowitz said in the statement. “We will leave it [to] the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leaks [sic] should be investigated along with all those others being investigated.”
The lawyer also accused Comey of misstating the timing of the leak.
“Although Mr. Comey testified he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that the New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet.”
In fact, Comey’s timeline appears to be correct.
Trump tweeted on Friday, May 12, that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press.”
Comey said it was that tweet that prompted him to ask a friend to reveal the contents of the memo to a reporter the following Tuesday, May 16. The Times ran a story about the memo contents later that day. Although the Times also reported on May 11 — before Trump’s tweet — about Comey’s private dinner with the president, that story made no reference to Comey’s contemporaneous memos. New York Times reporters corroborated Comey’s timeline on Thursday after Kasowitz’s statement.
The president himself was uncharacteristically restrained during the Comey hearing. Trump didn’t send out a single tweet.
Trump’s elder son was active on Twitter, however, defending his dad. Donald Trump Jr. took particular aim at Comey’s claim that by saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” the president was effectively directing the FBI director to close the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“Hoping and telling are two very different things,” the younger Trump tweeted. “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.”
Administration spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to project an air of normalcy, telling reporters, “It’s a regular Thursday at the White House.”
She said the president spent much of the morning in meetings with his national security team, although a person close to his legal team said Trump planned to watch at least part of the Comey hearing with his attorney.
Sanders declined to answer specific questions about Comey’s testimony, referring those to the president’s lawyer. She did take issue, though, with Comey’s claim that Trump is less than honest.
“I can definitely say the president is not a liar,” Sanders said. “And I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”
Comey accused Trump of lying in multiple instances in the hearing.
Trump later addressed the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group of religious conservatives who have been supportive of the president. He made no direct reference to the Comey hearing in his speech, though he did liken himself to people of faith who feel persecuted by the government.
“As you know, we’re under siege,” Trump said, promising to protect religious liberty. “You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the president’s contacts with Comey, saying any breach of the usual firewalls was a product of inexperience, not nefarious intent.
“Of course there needs to be a degree of independence” between the FBI and the White House, Ryan said. “The president is new at this. He’s new to government. So he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships.”
During the hearing, Comey offered a different take.
“Why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office” before raising the Flynn investigation, if the president’s intent was innocent? Comey asked.
“That, to me, as an investigator, is a very significant fact.”