MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Fired FBI Director James Comey has a new book coming out. It's a memoir. And it takes direct aim at the character and leadership of his former boss. The president and the White House are punching back. Here's press secretary Sarah Sanders at today's White House briefing.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The FBI should be independent and not led by a political hack. Comey's higher loyalty is pretty clear that it's only to himself.
KELLY: All right. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: I know you've got your hot little hands all over this book.
KELLY: So I'm going to put to you the question I've been putting to everyone. What's the headline? What's new here?
JOHNSON: Well, for me it was the notion that James Comey along with other intelligence community officials went to Trump Tower in January 2017 before the inauguration, briefed President Trump and his - incoming President Trump and his team on the details behind the Russian interference in the election - really secret stuff, sources and methods. Comey says the reaction from Trump and the team was focused on PR and spin, how to position these findings for maximum political advantage, not on the ongoing threat from Russia and what could be done about it.
Remember; since that time there's been a lot of criticism of President Trump, who's lashed out at the FBI, the Justice Department and a lot of other people but not Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Leaders in the intelligence community say the U.S. hasn't done enough. Members of Congress say the same thing. And in a few months we're going to have bipartisan midterm elections coming up.
KELLY: We sure are. Now, speaking of White House reaction to all this, in a tweet this morning President Trump called Comey - and I quote - "an untruthful slimeball." He also said Comey's mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation was, quote, "one of the great botch jobs of history," which gives you and me, Carrie, the opportunity - here we sit in April 2018 - to talk yet again about Hillary Clinton's emails. How does Comey address the subject in his book?
JOHNSON: Well, Comey said he assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win that election. And he says maybe media polls signaling that Clinton was likely to win did play a part in his decision to talk about reopening the email investigation in October 2016, shortly before the election. Comey says maybe if the election seemed closer to him, maybe he would've kept quiet.
There's another thing, too. Remember that news conference Comey did in July 2016 where he talked about all the things Hillary Clinton did wrong, called her use of a private email server extremely careless. Ultimately he said she would not be charged with a crime. In retrospect, Comey says he would have said that first so as not to confuse people. In fact, Comey says his wife and his family said that he was Seacresting (ph), acting like Ryan Seacrest when he was...
KELLY: Oh, like Ryan Seacrest. OK.
JOHNSON: Yeah, when he was hosting "American Idol," teasing people to keep watching after the commercial. Comey says he's sorry if Clinton and her supporters are unhappy about he - how he handled all of this. But he concludes ultimately he did the right thing by talking.
KELLY: Now, what about Russia? Will the new Comey book give new ammunition either to Robert Mueller's investigation or to those who would like to see that investigation shut down?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, it's not clear. Comey is a witness in this investigation. Generally speaking, prosecutors and FBI agents like to keep a tight leash on people like that because there's a risk of them making inconsistent statements or blurting out something that could hurt the case if there is one. That's why it's striking to some people inside the Justice Department and out that Comey, a former FBI director, is going on a media campaign now for his book while the Russia investigation is continuing.
KELLY: Let me ask you about another name I did not expect to be talking about in April 2018 - Scooter Libby, who of course is the former aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted for lying to another special counsel back in the George W. Bush era. President Trump has pardoned him. What's going on there?
JOHNSON: Yeah. At first blush this seems unrelated to the Comey book news. But actually there is a connection. Comey was the second-in-command at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration. He appointed his friend Pat Fitzgerald to be the special counsel to lead that investigation. Ultimately Scooter Libby was convicted for lying and obstructing justice for talking with reporters about the identity of a CIA operative and then lying about that later.
Kellyanne Conway, a top White House aide in the Trump administration, told reporters today that many people think Scooter Libby was the victim of a special counsel gone amok. That obviously has some resonance since President Trump calls Robert Mueller, the current special counsel, somebody who's on a witch hunt.
KELLY: Real quick while we've got you, Carrie, new details coming in on another topic today - the investigation into the president - President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. What are they?
JOHNSON: Prosecutors in New York say Michael Cohen has been under investigation for many months. It relates to his personal business, not his work as a lawyer. The government says it's been secretly monitoring several of his email accounts independent of the special counsel's Russia probe.
KELLY: Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
KELLY: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.