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Trump Denies Asking James Comey For Pledge Of Loyalty


President Trump says he never asked James Comey for a pledge of loyalty, and he denied ever asking the former FBI director to go easy on Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser. President Trump says he is willing to testify to that under oath. He spoke to reporters today for the first time since Comey's dramatic testimony before the Senate intelligence committee.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. And Scott, what the president says about the Flynn matter of course directly contradicts what Comey told the Senate committee. How do we sort that one out?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Robert, one of these men is lying. Comey says the president told him he hoped he could let the Flynn investigation go and that he took that as a direction from the president. Trump insists he didn't say that. He also disputes Comey's account of the private dinner the two men had where Comey said the president asked for that pledge of loyalty. Now, Comey was testifying under oath. ABC's Jon Karl asked the president, would he be willing to do the same?


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One-hundred percent - I didn't say under oath. 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.

HORSLEY: Remember, Robert; not long after he fired Comey, Trump tweeted that the former FBI director better hope there are no tapes of those - of their conversations. Comey didn't seem worried by that. He said yesterday, lordy, I hope there are tapes. Trump was asked about that today. He didn't really answer. He teased reporters, saying, I'll tell you over a very short period of time.

SIEGEL: Trump is contesting much of what Comey said to the Senate intelligence committee. But it's interesting. He wants people to believe part of what Comey said. Explain which part.

HORSLEY: When Comey's written testimony was released earlier this week, Trump's attorney said the president felt vindicated because Comey did back up Trump's claim that he told him on several occasions the president was not personally the target of an FBI investigation. Trump really wanted to get that message out. He broke his Twitter silence this morning to say it was a total and complete vindication even as he is also trying to attack Comey's credibility.


TRUMP: No collusion, no obstruction. He's a leaker. But we want to get back to running our great country.

HORSLEY: When the president says he's a leaker, he's referring to Comey's acknowledgment that he asked a friend to leak contents of memos about his meetings with the president to a reporter. Trump's attorney has threatened to file complaints about that, although it's not clear what the basis of such complaints would be.

SIEGEL: So the memos that Comey had written himself to the file, as it were...

HORSLEY: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...Memorializing their exchanges. Well, moving on from Comey, the back and forth you've been talking about came with reporters during a Rose Garden news conference that Trump held after his meeting with the president of Romania. What did they have to talk about?

HORSLEY: Romania is a NATO member, so Trump repeated his call for NATO allies to spend more on their own defense. Romania is actually one of the few countries that will be hitting the spending target this year, and Trump praised the president for that. He also said what he did not say explicitly when he was meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels last month, which is that the U.S. is committed to their mutual defense that's spelled out in Article 5 of the NATO treaty.


TRUMP: I'm committing the United States to Article 5. And certainly we are there to protect. And that's one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force. But yes, absolutely I'd be committed to Article 5.

HORSLEY: That language was conspicuously missing from Trump's speech in Brussels, and his national security team has been doing some cleanup ever since.

SIEGEL: And briefly, one other point - Trump also weighed in on the situation surrounding Qatar, which has been isolated by some of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region. Whose side is Trump taking in that contest?

HORSLEY: Well, he seems to be taking the Saudis' side even though his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said earlier today Saudi Arabia and its neighbors should ease their blockade of Qatar, which is a big base for U.S. military forces.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House - Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.