President Donald Trump suggested Friday outside the White House that former FBI Director James B. Comey should be jailed and his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un averted “nuclear war.”
Trump broke with decades of protocol and ventured out to the executive mansion’s North Lawn to do a live interview with Fox News. He stayed outside with Secret Service agents scanning nearby Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Park for nearly an hour, taking a half hour of questions from a Fox anchor then another 30 minutes of questions from White House correspondents.
He also drove a dagger into a compromise House immigration measure that Republicans spent weeks hammering out, saying he “certainly” would not sign it. White House aides in recent days have simply pointed to Trump’s plan as his preferred package; that one, however, failed to pass the Senate earlier this year.
The president lashed out at Comey, whom he fired and admitted the Justice Department’s Russia probe was on his mind when he did so, saying he and other senior FBI officials are “horrible” and possibly guilty of crimes.
Rank and file agents are “incredible,” Trump said, then accusing Comey and other bureau brass of “bias” against his 2016 presidential bid.
“I beat the Clinton dynasty, I beat the Bush dynasty,” a boastful Trump said with a smirk before adding he senses he is now battling “very dishonest intelligence” officials “because what they did was incredible and a real insult to the millions of people who voted in that election, on both sides.”
The Justice Department’s IG report, released and briefed to the president and lawmakers Thursday, faults FBI agents and leaders for their handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. It criticizes two agents for text messages about Trump, including one from a senior agent promising the FBI would “stop” his eventual electoral win. But the report says the IG found no evidence that agents or leaders acted out of political bias.
“I thought that one-sentence conclusion was ridiculous,” Trump said.
When pressed on whether he wants Comey to remain a free man or face criminal charges — and even prison time — the president did not rule either out saying he thinks someone should “make a determination.” On the FBI agent who sent the text about preventing him from becoming president, Trump was more clear, saying he thinks Peter Strzok: “What he did was criminal.”
“They just seem like very criminal acts,” the president said of Comey and Strzok.
The president was defiant about his historic nuclear disarmament summit with Kim, during which he feted the young North Korean leader and even showed him the inside of the presidential limo, called “The Beast.”
Trump hit back at critics who said his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a mistake. “If you don’t agree to meet, you’re going to have nuclear war. That’s what you’re going to have,” he told Fox News.
Congressional Democrats contend Kim gave up very little but extracted a list of concessions from Trump. “Nothing that has been reported yet to suggest a meaningful agreement,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., told Roll Call earlier this week. “The fact that they are talking is a good thing. But, in the end, if we’re going to be safe from nuclear weapons, we need something that is going to be verifiable and trustworthy.”
Trump on Friday said he got “everything” he wanted from Kim in Singapore, listing: the return of hostages last month, Kim’s agreement to return the remains of U.S. soldiers who died there in the Korean War, agreements to destroy nuclear and missile test facilities, and a declaration to give up his atomic weapons.
But the U.S. commander in chief also gave Kim something he has long wanted: the end, for now at least, of annual American-South Korean military exercises. Trump did so without letting Seoul know in advance. That has Democrats and Republicans worried, since the South is a key ally in the region.
Democratic Senate Armed Services member Claire McCaskill of Missouri, is among them, saying this Wednesday about ending what Trump calls “war games”: “That remains to be seen whether that’s a good idea.” But the president fired back at critics Friday, saying it was “my term” to put the games on the table — and then under the guillotine — because he has “hated them from the day I came in [to office].”
“We pay for it,” he said, noting they cost “millions and millions of dollars” and saying the savings will be a “good thing.” The president also said he has a plans to “call North Korea” over the weekend as the two countries continue negotiations after their summit in Singapore.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told CNN he saw Trump’s driveway performance as “45 minutes of Scamapalooza.”
The hour also hit other topics:
- Trump told reporters he does not want to talk about potential pardons — including of himself — related to the Justice Department’s Russia probe. “I do want to see people treated fairly. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. Legal experts have said the president’s use of “fairly” and his pardon power so early in his presidency suggests he is sending a message to former associates that he may terminate any sentencings if they resist cooperating with the special counsel’s team.
- He also did not deny that he dictated a misleading statement from Air Force One about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that included his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Clinton. But he tried to suggest the matter was not important, even though Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller is reportedly interested in his role. “It’s a statement to the phony, failing New York Times,” a dismissive Trump said, saying it would only matter if the statement misled “a high tribunal of judges.”
- The president also reminded the world how much he values television, saying this about the Fox News morning show’s ratings: “I like ratings. I study ratings.”
- “He speaks and his people sit to attention. I want my people to do the same,” Trump said to Fox about Kim. A reporter inquired about the comment to which the president sharply told the reporter, “You don’t understand sarcasm,” with a dismissive wave.