As fired FBI Director James B. Comey was testifying against him across town Thursday, President Trump hit back hard against his most prominent adversary and warned a conservative audience in Washington, “We are under siege.”
Frustrated by months of negative media coverage of his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and government leaks aimed at undermining his presidency, a defiant Mr. Trump took on Mr. Comey in the legal and political arenas.
The president’s personal lawyer appeared before a horde of reporters at the National Press Club, saying Mr. Comey’s testimony to the Senate intelligence committee “vindicated” Mr. Trump of accusations that he tried to pressure the FBI to back off any investigations.
And the lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, accused Mr. Comey of revealing himself as a leaker of “privileged” presidential conversations that could put him in legal jeopardy.
“We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether these leaks should be investigated along with all the others that are being investigated,” Mr. Kasowitz said.
Mr. Trump, speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference as Mr. Comey was still testifying, didn’t mention the ex-FBI director by name. But Mr. Trump made clear he believes that he is in a critical moment in the fight for his presidency.
“We are under siege, you understand that,” Mr. Trump told the crowd of evangelical supporters. “The entrenched interests and the failed bitter voices in Washington will do everything in their power to try and stop us from this righteous cause, to try to stop all of you. They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice.”
But, the president added, “we will not back down from doing what is right.”
“We know the truth will prevail,” Mr. Trump said. “Nothing worth doing ever came easy. But we know how to fight better than anybody, and we never give up. We are winners, and we are going to fight and win and have an unbelievable future. The good and decent people will get the change they voted for and that they so richly deserve.”
The White House had been girding for weeks for the media spectacle of the ousted Mr. Comey, whose feud with the president has grown increasingly bitter, testifying in a hearing broadcast live by several TV networks.
Although TVs in West Wing offices aired the hearing on four-quadrant screens tuned to the various networks, aides publicly tried to portray an atmosphere of business as usual at the White House.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr. Trump was busy Thursday morning in meetings with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
“The president’s engaged in national security meetings,” she said. “It’s a regular Thursday at the White House.”
Ms. Sanders noted that the president’s speech was touching on skyrocketing health insurance costs under Obamacare, “job-killing federal regulations” and the threat of Islamist terrorism.
“These are the issues that Americans are actually talking about around their dinner tables, and that’s what the president will be speaking about,” she said.
Mr. Trump did address those topics. He also continued with his theme of being “under siege,” warning his conservative, religious base that they’ll need to work even harder to elect Republicans to Congress in 2018 because he can’t count on a single Democratic vote to enact his legislative agenda.
The president said Democratic lawmakers have “gone so far left that I don’t know if they can ever come back. What they have done is they’ve tried to obstruct, and that’s why, when it comes to the elections in ‘18, we have to get more” Republican lawmakers.
He said of the partisanship in Washington, “The level of hatred is beyond anything that I’ve ever seen.”
The president and his aides say that animosity extends to leaks by entrenched bureaucrats and some high-profile figures such as Mr. Comey, whom Mr. Trump fired last month, saying he’d lost confidence in the FBI chief. Days after the firing, Mr. Trump also said that he believed the FBI’s Russia investigation was essentially a witch hunt, although he maintained that he didn’t try to derail the probe by dismissing Mr. Comey.
Mr. Comey characterized the president Thursday as a “liar,” an accusation that caused Ms. Sanders to bristle when a reporter asked her about it.
“No, I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” she said. “I think it is frankly insulting that question would be asked.”
The White House is referring most questions about the Russia probe to Mr. Kasowitz, who was hired by the president late last month as Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller was appointed to take over Mr. Comey’s investigation.
The president’s personal lawyer said after the Senate hearing that the president had been “vindicated” of two main accusations by Mr. Comey — that Mr. Trump had asked the FBI director to “let go” of an investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and that he had demanded loyalty of Mr. Comey.
“The president never in form or substance directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, [and] the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, ‘Let Flynn go,’” Mr. Kasowitz said. “The president also never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ He never said it in form and he never said it in substance.”
But Mr. Comey did say he felt pressured by the president to end the Flynn probe, and that Mr. Trump told him directly that he expected loyalty.