James Comey Defends Memo Release, Says He Has Respect for "Office" of the President

On a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, the former FBI director also took shots at the primary presidential candidates in the 2016 election and addressed the so-called pee tape.

Continuing to ride the wave of publicity following his best-selling book, James Comey appeared on a live CNN town hall on Wednesday hosted by Anderson Cooper, where he weighed in on allegations about "leaked" memos and the Parkland gun-control activists, among other issues.

After a few questions from the audience at the College of William and Mary, where Comey (an alum) will be teaching a class on ethical leadership in the fall, Comey took issue with Cooper characterizing releasing memos that he had written on President Trump as "leaking" them. "I was a private citizen at that time," he said. "The FBI gets upset when people make unauthorized disclosures of classified information." He added, "I handled the memos appropriately. My mind is open to other points of view, but I don't see it, honestly."

Comey also addressed the so-called pee tape, the raw intelligence in a dossier created by ex-British spy Christopher Steele that the Russian government had taped President Trump watching prostitutes urinate on a bed in a hotel in Moscow in 2013. "I'm not going to say that word," he said. "It might matter in the long run in the sense that it casts shame on the leader of our country."

When an audience member asked Comey about connections between President Trump and Russia, Comey said, "I was very struck that he was reluctant to criticize [Putin] in private." When asked if it was possible that Trump had received money from Russia, Comey said it was possible, but he didn't know.

When Cooper mentioned that Comey had previously said he thought the U.S. might be better off with Hillary Clinton as president, Comey specified that he had made those comments based on leadership values. "Based on values, I think the American people were faced with a choice between the least popular, least trusted candidates in modern history," he said, but "between the two, looking in hindsight, Hillary Clinton is more enmeshed in, trained in, respectful of the norms and traditions I'm so worried are being eroded today."

When asked if he thought Trump was an "ethical leader," Comey said, "Ethical leaders have external reference points … that help them lift their eyes. As far as I can tell, President Trump doesn't have external reference points. … He only has internal reference points."

One student asked Comey if he has a nickname for Trump. Since the release of A Higher Loyalty, the president has taken to Twitter to blast Comey, calling him a "slimeball," a "leaker" and a "liar," among other insults. A Higher Loyalty alleges that Trump is "untethered to the truth" and that Trump's leadership of the country is "ego driven and about personal loyalty." The book also compares Trump's leadership to those of mob bosses Comey encountered as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2002 to 2003.

"I don't have a nickname for him. Honestly, I call him the president of the United States because I respect the office," Comey responded, to scattered applause.

Comey also weighed in on the Parkland, Fla., gun-control activists, saying, "I don't know where it will lead. I'm optimistic it will lead to sensible change around guns. I write at the end of my book that Trump's presidency is a forest fire. … They do damage but things grow in the wake of them. I see that in the Parkland kids … in my own kids. Standing up and speaking, and maybe shame the adults to get involved and not remain numb at the things that are critical to this country."

Though Comey has appeared on a long list of outlets since his book was released on April 17 — including the New Yorker Radio Hour, The Lead With Jake Tapper, The View, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert — subsequent news items involving Comey have varied the talking points. On Thursday, the Justice Department began sharing Comey's memos on his meetings with President Trump — when the author was head of the FBI — with Congress. That same day, the Justice Department submitted a criminal referral on former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Comey's colleague.

Comey's book sold more than 600,000 copies in its first week, which makes it a faster seller in its first days than even Michael Wolff's blockbuster Trump White House book Fire and Fury.