Donald Trump and his team already seemed prepared to move towards a contest of credibility with former FBI Director James Comey, but at a White House press conference this afternoon, the president took the dispute to a whole new level.
A reporter asked Trump why he feels "vindicated" by Comey's Senate testimony, and asked about whether the president has tapes of his interactions, as Trump has previously suggested. On the issue of recordings, the president said, cryptically, "Well I'll tell you about that sometime in the very near future," before adding:
"But in the meantime, no collusion, no obstruction, he's a leaker, but we want to get back to running out great country.... Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction. We are doing really well. That was an excuse by the Democrats, who lost an election they shouldn't have lost. [He then talked about the electoral college for a while.] So it was just an excuse. But we were very, very happy and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren't true."
Oh. So, according to the president -- who seemed to be glancing down at some notes while speaking -- we should believe the parts of Comey's testimony that Trump liked, but we should believe the former FBI director perjured himself on the parts that Trump didn't like.
Later in the press conference, the president again insisted that Comey's claims -- specifically on whether Trump pressed Comey on letting up on Michael Flynn and the question of whether Trump demanded loyalty -- weren't true, and it led to an awkward exchange:
REPORTER: [Comey] said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?TRUMP: 100 percent. I didn't say...REPORTER: Under oath?TRUMP: I hardly know the man. I'm not going to say, "I want you to pledge allegiance." Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean think of it, I hardly know the man. It doesn't make sense. No, I didn't say that and I didn't say the other.REPORTER: So if [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would be willing to talk to him?TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you.
The way the Q&A unfolded, it certainly sounded as if Trump said he's prepared to testify under oath, which would raise the stakes on the investigation considerably. Watch this space.