Like a mob boss with average sized hands: ex-FBI chief takes aim at Trump
Donald Trump was like a mafia boss who treated women like "pieces of meat', was vulnerable to Russian blackmail and was "morally unfit to be president", former FBI director James Comey said in an incendiary five-hour interview broadcast on US network TV.
"I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth," Comey told ABC interviewer George Stephanopoulos, "but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013".
"Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"I think it's possible. I don't know."
Of Trump's practice of not criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin, Comey said, "I don't know what's behind that."
The interview, which came two days before publication of Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership," prompted the president to hit back, saying "slippery James Comey" was "not smart" and was "the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!"
Comey, whom Trump sacked as FBI director, promting a Justice department investigation into him, described several conversations he had with Trump, during which the president asked for his loyalty – a claim Trump has denied.
This gave him "flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob".
"The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organisation above morality and above the truth," Comey said.
Some of his observations were more personal. Trump spoke in monologues, he said, but did not listen.
"It was him talking almost the entire time, which I've discovered is something he frequently does. ... And a constant series of assertions ... On and on and on and on. 'Everyone agrees, everyone agrees, I did this the, — I never assaulted these women'."
Comey said he had noticed Trump's face "looked slightly orange up close with small white half-moons under his eyes, which I assume are from tanning goggles."
He also said there was nothing particularly noteworthy in the size of Trump's hands.
"There had been all this controversy and mocking about hand size; I can't remember the details. But as I shook his hand, I made a note to check the size, and it seemed like he had average-sized hands."
However, he did not believe Trump was either mentally incompetent or in the early stages of dementia, as some argue.
"He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who's tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.
"A person who sees moral equivalence [between the actions of neo-Nazis and counter-protesters] 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," Comey said.
However, he did not want to see the president impeached.
"I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook ... People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values. ... impeachment, in a way, would short circuit that."
The stakes for both men in this argument could hardly be higher. Comey seems likely to be the star witness in any obstruction of justice case that might be brought against the President by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump's legal fate may depend on whether he succeeds in undermining the credibility of Comey and the law enforcement institutions he views as arrayed against him.
On the controversy over his decision to disclose to the public shortly before the 2016 election that the FBI had reopened its investigation into candidate Clinton's email use, Comey said he did not remember "consciously thinking" about the election results.
But, he acknowledged, "I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I'm sure that it was a factor."
"I don't remember spelling it out," he added, "but it had to have been that she's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out.