WASHINGTON (CNN) — Six days ago, President Donald Trump was planning to spend his Sunday morning in Bogota, conducting breakfast diplomacy across from the leader of Colombia, a burgeoning US ally.
Instead, he spent the morning in front of his White House televisions, dispatching tweet after tweet lambasting the FBI director that he fired and the allegations levied in his still-forthcoming book.
James Comey, the President fumed, is a “slippery” “slimeball” who should be tossed in jail, with a “badly reviewed” and “FAKE” memoir, only confirming his rank as the “WORST FBI Director in history, by far!”
“He was making decisions based on the fact that he thought (Hillary Clinton) was going to win, and he wanted a job,” Trump declared in one tweet, sent at 7:42 a.m., referring to Comey’s handling of the Clinton email probe.
“I hardly knew this guy,” Trump lamented in another an hour later, denying Comey’s claim that he’d demanded his loyalty.
It was a test page of insults and rebuttals, a see-what-sticks strategy for a President who finds himself under increasing siege amid multiple investigations and legal battles. For White House aides, it was a predictable outcome to a book that alleges not only ethical lapses, but also insults the President’s appearance and intelligence.
Even as Trump evaluates the limited strikes he ordered on Syrian regime positions and prepares for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, officials say the Comey matter has consumed his attention as more details from the book come to light and clips from his debut interview with ABC begin airing.
The White House had developed a plan alongside the Republican National Committee to rebut the claims in Comey’s book and impugn Comey’s character, including launching a “Lyin’ Comey” website and distributing talking points to surrogates. People close to the President say he was mostly expecting the negative portrait Comey paints in his book, including describing disputed events like a dinner at which Comey claims Trump demanded his loyalty. Trump has long denied making that request.
But one person close to Trump said the President was caught off guard by the personal nature of Comey’s attacks, including his description of Trump as a mafia boss and his wry jabs at Trump’s appearance, including his description of Trump’s face as “slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles.”
Trump has personally asked his aides to defend him on television against Comey’s claims, according to people familiar with the requests, including on Friday morning after details of the book began emerging. Some of his outside advisers have expressed concern that a sufficient defense isn’t in place to counter Comey’s upcoming television interview spree.
If Sunday was any evidence, however, Trump has largely taking his defense into his own hands, even as some of his aides insist he is focused elsewhere.
“The President will have his say, either through those of us who do speak on his behalf or on his own,” said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway on Friday. “He’s a busy guy. He’s the President of the United States.”
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