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Comey slams White House ‘lies’ in blockbuster testimony

WASHINGTON – Ousted Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey accused Donald Trump’s White House of lies and defamation Thursday in wounding sworn testimony that plunged the US leader’s already troubled presidency deeper into peril.

During almost three hours of extraordinarily frank statements carried live by networks and cable news stations, Comey described himself as “stunned’’ by Trump’s “very disturbing’’ and “very concerning’’ behavior in several meetings.

Detailing one-on-one talks with a sitting President – which under normal circumstances are private – Comey said he took painstaking notes for fear Trump might “lie’’ about the unusual encounters.

The testimony painted a devastating picture of an untrustworthy President, who at best unknowingly shred the norms of office by pressing Comey on the probe into Russian election meddling, and at worst may have criminally obstructed justice.

During one White House dinner, Comey recalled that the President asked him for “loyalty’’ and to lay off his former national security advisor Michael Flynn – who is under criminal investigation over his Russia ties – imploring Comey to “let this go.’’ Comey indicated it was now up to a high-powered special prosecutor to determine whether that behavior, and his own sacking, constituted an obstruction of justice, a potentially impeachable offense.

“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,’’ he told senators. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.’’

Easing months of speculation, Comey confirmed that Trump was not personally under investigation when he left the FBI last month.

The White House and Trump’s lawyers expressed vindication over some parts of Comey’s testimony and lashed out at others.

“I can definitely say the President is not a liar and frankly am insulted by that question,’’ White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz said the President “never told Mr. Comey ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’ in form or substance,’’ rejecting a key allegation.

Deploying Trump’s trademark bareknuckle style, Kasowitz also suggested the ousted lawman should be prosecuted for leaking “privileged information.’’

Trump avoided directly responding to the explosive accusations, defiantly telling supporters at a religious event in the capital: “We are going to fight and win.’’

While the President was unusually quiet on his preferred communication platform, Twitter, his son Donald Trump Jr. live-tweeted throughout Comey’s testimony.

“You see how disgusting the swamp really is, the people that are there,’’ the younger Trump said in an interview with Fox News later Thursday, a nod to his father’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp’’ that is Washington.

“This is what the people voted against last time. I’m happy for them to keep doing it. It’s going to make 2020 that much easier,’’ he said, referring to the next presidential election. (AFP)