Lichtblau: Close to zero. Trump made this claim in his first interview after the firing, but from the people I’ve spoken with, it’s almost impossible to think that Comey would have given the President such an assurance even once, much less three times. We’ve seen people around Comey push back on other elements of his January dinner with Trump, saying that the President demanded Comey’s “loyalty,” and Comey himself is particularly anxious to refute the claim that he told the President he was essentially out of the woods in the Russia investigation.
So how does the public judge who’s telling the truth about what the two men said? That’s where the President’s insinuation via Twitter that there were “tapes” comes into play. A recording of the dinner, if it actually exists, would help settle the question of who’s telling the truth and would be anxiously sought by congressional investigators.
Cillizza: Trump and his allies made much of the idea that Comey wasn’t well liked by the rank and file within the FBI. What was/is the main criticism of Comey within the bureau and how widespread is it?
Lichtblau: There are certainly factions within the FBI’s 13,000 agents who don’t like the job Comey did after he became director in 2013. Some agents think he went too easy on Hillary Clinton in the email investigation by not recommending criminal charges against her. Then there are others who think he led the FBI too deeply into the political muck in the email case — both in his remarkable press conference last July and again in re-examining the case just 11 days before the election.