House Speaker Paul Ryan said he doesn’t agree with President Trump’s assessment that former FBI Director James Comey is a “nut job.”
The Wisconsin lawmaker was responding to a recent New York Times report that Trump had boasted to Russian diplomats about firing Comey, whom he described as a “nut job.”
“Yeah, I don’t agree with that. And he’s not,” Ryan said Wednesday at the Axios News Shapers event in Washington, D.C.
During an onstage conversation, Axios co-founder Mike Allen asked Ryan about reports that Trump had pressured Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Ryan declined to comment. He said he didn’t want to prejudge the outcome of three independent, ongoing investigations, being conducted by the House intelligence committee, the Senate intelligence committee and the FBI under the direction of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I like Jim Comey. I know that there are people who are on both sides of the aisle concerned about decisions he made. I think he was put into an impossible position,” he said.
Trump abruptly fired Comey earlier this month. The White House claimed that Comey had disqualified himself during the campaign with his public statements about the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server. But Trump contradicted that message, saying he fired Comey for being a “showboat.” And he reportedly told the Russian diplomats that the termination took pressure off the FBI’s probe into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with the Kremlin.
For his part, Ryan on Wednesday defended Comey’s conduct during the campaign. He said former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s controversial meeting with former President Bill Clinton aboard a private plane last summer placed Comey in a difficult position. The meeting, which raised questions about the Justice Department’s impartiality, occurred just days before Comey announced that then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would not be charged for her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Just as this meeting angered Republicans, Comey’s letter to Congress announcing that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails shortly before the presidential election outraged Democrats. Many Democrats, including Clinton herself, feel that Comey’s letter cost her the election.
“I remember getting that letter from him. I think Oct. 28 or something like that. I can remember the date,” Ryan recalled. “I was campaigning for some House Republicans in California at the time. That one kind of took me by surprise. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘What an impossible, no-win position or decision he had to make.’”
“I think the guy was forced into nearly impossible decisions. Understandably he was going to get criticized, but I think he served this country ably.”
He isn’t the only politician to defend Comey against Trump’s reported insult. Earlier this week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that Comey is “in no way a nut job.”
“He’s a very strong man. He’s a very principled man,” Feinstein said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I happen to believe he made a couple of mistakes. I suspect he thinks he’s made a couple of mistakes.”
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