WASHINGTON — Fired FBI Director Jim Comey, in nationally televised testimony on Thursday, said he worried President Trump “might lie” about their first face-to-face meeting. A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, denied from the briefing room podium later in the day that the commander in chief was a liar. She then sarcastically said she’d check under the mansion’s couches for any recording equipment that could provide the definitive account of Comey’s Oval Office meetings with Trump. She also ended a bizarre two-day refusal by the president’s spokespeople to express his “confidence” in his attorney general. All the while, she referred reporters’ questions about Comey to the outside lawyers Trump has had to hire. And the Twitter-embracing president himself stayed uncharacteristically quiet.
“It’s a regular Thursday at the White House — we’re carrying on,” Sanders told reporters in an off-camera briefing.
Even by the roller-coaster standards set by the Trump administration, the business-as-usual pose felt strained.
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The White House officially left hitting back at Comey to the Republican National Committee and to Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz. But even the pushback had a surreal quality: One of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., aggressively defended his father amid an avalanche of tweets that included personal attacks on Comey and broad derision for reporters. It was unclear whether the White House approved or authorized his comments.
Sanders left unclear whether Trump was watching the former FBI director’s testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, noting that the president had been meeting with senior national security aides.
Comey spent part of the day testifying at a hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. In an earlier news account about Comey’s firing not disputed by the White House, Trump told visiting Russian officials, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
“I don’t know if he’s seen much of it,” Sanders said, adding that, in the West Wing, “we have the news on like we do every single day. That’s not new. Pretty sure that’s standard operating procedure for this building.”
With Comey and the president starkly at odds about the nature and content of several one-on-one communications, Sanders bristled when asked whether the president was a liar.
“I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” she said. “I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”
Two days after reporters began fruitlessly asking White House press secretary Sean Spicer whether Trump had confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sanders declared: “Absolutely, the president has confidence in all of his Cabinet, and if he didn’t they wouldn’t be here.”
Sanders shrugged off a reporter’s question about one remarkable aspect of the testimony from Comey, who noted Trump’s peculiar May 12 suggestion of “tapes” of their conversations. Comey declared, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
Is there a White House recording system, a reporter asked? “I have no idea,” Sanders replied. Could she try to find out, another reporter asked.
“Sure,” she said with an eye roll. “I’ll try to look under the couches.”
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