WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey says he thinks it's possible the Russians have compromising information on President Donald Trump, that there is "some evidence of obstruction of justice" in the president's actions and that Trump is "morally unfit" for office.
Comey's comments in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday were almost certain to escalate his war of words with the president, who fired him last year and attacked him anew Sunday with a Twitter outburst that suggested the ex-FBI head should be put in jail.
Comey's televised remarks, coupled with his forthcoming book, offer his version of events surrounding his firing and the investigations into Russian election meddling and Hillary Clinton's email practices.
The interview was tied to the release of Comey's new book, "A Higher Loyalty." Hours before it aired a vitriolic Twitter outburst from the president labeled Comey "slippery," suggested he should be in jail and branded him the "the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!"
The FBI director, who until his firing last May led an investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, acknowledged that it was "stunning" to think that Russia could have damaging information about an American president. But he said that in Trump's case, he could not discount the possibility.
"These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible," Comey told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.
He also answered "possibly" when asked if the president was attempting to obstruct justice when he cleared the Oval Office of other officials last February before encouraging him to close the investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. The retired general pleaded guilty last December to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Comey also said he believed that Trump was "morally unfit" to be president and that he treated women like "pieces of meat."
Trump had seized on an excerpt of the ABC interview shown Saturday in which Comey said his belief that Clinton would beat Trump in the 2016 presidential election was a factor in his decision to disclose the investigation into her emails. Comey, Trump tweeted, "was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!"
Comey's disclosure shortly before the election that the FBI had reopened its investigation into her email use enraged Democrats. After Clinton's loss, many Democrats blamed Comey, and Clinton herself has said it hurt her election prospects.
Trump on Sunday pushed back again against Comey's claims that Trump sought his loyalty, saying, "I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies." He also suggested Comey should be imprisoned, saying, "how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail)." There is no indication Comey is under investigation for doing either.
Asked if the president wanted the Justice Department to investigate Comey, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that she was not aware of a specific request. But, she said, "if they feel there was any wrongdoing, they should certainly look into that just as they do on a number of other topics."
In his book, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and calls his leadership of the country "ego driven and about personal loyalty."
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch pushed back against Comey's criticism in the book that, early in the Clinton email inquiry, she had instructed him to refer to it as a "matter" rather than an "investigation." In a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday, Lynch said she was simply following longstanding Justice Department protocol against confirming or denying the existence of an investigation. She also said that Comey never raised any concerns with her regarding the email investigation.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, setting off a scramble at the Justice Department that led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Mueller's probe has expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
Trump has said he fired Comey because of his handling of the FBI's investigation into Clinton's email practices. Trump used the investigation as a cudgel in the campaign and repeatedly said Clinton should be jailed for using a personal email system while serving as secretary of state. Democrats, on the other hand, have accused Comey of politicizing the investigation.
In the interview excerpt released Saturday, Comey said he did not remember "consciously thinking" about the election results as he decided to disclose that the FBI had reopened its investigation into candidate Clinton's email use. 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."
He added: "I don't remember spelling it out, 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."