Former FBI Director James B. Comey unloaded on President Trump on Wednesday, suggesting the Russians must have compromising information on him and warning voters that Moscow wants Mr. Trump to win the election.
Mr. Comey also said Mr. Trump, with his answers in Tuesday’s presidential debate, is “spraying gasoline” on the fires of white supremacy, pushing more people to embrace a movement he labeled a national security threat.
But Mr. Comey also snared Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, in his attacks, saying the FBI would be “concerned” by a candidate who had a relative who had connections to Ukrainian and Chinese companies.
Fired by Mr. Trump in 2017, Mr. Comey — despite insisting he doesn’t like the spotlight — has embraced the role of anti-Trumper with relish, writing books and op-eds attacking the president. He brought his crusade to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in a hearing called to examine his oversight of the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Testifying remotely, wearing an open-collar shirt with no necktie, Mr. Comey said the president hasn’t been vocal enough in criticizing Russia and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said there’s no good reason other than that Moscow is effectively blackmailing him.
“I have never felt that way about an American president, and I don’t know whether the Russians have something over President Trump, but it’s difficult to explain his conduct, his statements, in any other way,” he said.
Mr. Trump, on Twitter, had a succinct take on Mr. Comey: “Should be arrested on the spot!”
Mr. Comey spent months leading the FBI’s investigation into Mr. Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which then turned into the special counsel’s probe — sparked by Mr. Comey’s firing.
According to its public findings, that investigation produced no evidence that Russia had dirt on Mr. Trump, and special counsel Robert Mueller specifically concluded there was no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Yet Mr. Comey urged voters to be wary.
“Know that a nation that does not have America’s best interests at heart wants to reelect Donald Trump. Let that sink in,” he said, when asked if he had a message for people about to cast ballots.
Several senators suggested Mr. Trump’s personal debt, as reported by The New York Times, may leave the president open to being compromised by a foreign power. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said it opens the president up to “blackmail.”
Mr. Comey said that’s true in the abstract, but he wasn’t familiar enough with Mr. Trump’s finances to speak to his own situation.
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, was stunned that Mr. Comey would make such an allegation.
“With all due respect, you don’t seem to know anything about an investigation that you ran, so how can you now as a private citizen and former FBI director show up and then speculate freely regarding any alleged ties between President Putin and President Trump?” he asked.
At one point Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the committee, asked Mr. Comey what he would make of a situation involving a candidate who had a family member who “was receiving millions of dollars from a corrupt company in the Ukraine” and “was getting a million and a half dollar investment portfolio from the China bank.”
“I’d be concerned about any effort to exert leverage over a government official, potential government official or someone close to them in an effort to influence them,” Mr. Comey replied.
He did not specifically name Mr. Biden, though.
Democrats also prodded Mr. Comey to weigh in on Mr. Trump’s comment at the presidential debate that white supremacists should “stand back and stand by” rather than engage in the left-wing mayhem on some city streets.
Those comments have been interpreted by many as expressing support for white supremacists, though Mr. Trump on Wednesday said he was telling them to “stand down, let law enforcement do its work.”
Mr. Comey predicted that the president’s original remarks would bolster white supremacists.
“The FBI’s fighting a fire of racist violence and with words like that, the president is using a fire hose to spray gasoline on that fire,” he said before Mr. Trump clarified his remarks Wednesday afternoon. “Maybe he misspoke. Maybe when he said ‘stand down and stand by,’ he meant something else. I sure hope for the sake of our country he’ll say what he meant and condemn these groups.”