Speaker of the House Paul Ryan conceded there is no defense for President Donald Trump to have allegedly asked FBI Director James Comey for reassurances of personal loyalty, telling MSNBC's Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday evening the incident was "obviously" inappropriate.
In pre-written testimony for his Thursday hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey described a series of "very awkard" attempts by Trump to establish "some sort of patronage" relationship and make investigations related to him and his team's ties to Russia go away.
"Yeah, no, I mean obviously I don't think that is" appropriate, Ryan said. "I think Director Comey will probably get a lot of questions about that tomorrow, would be my guess."
Looking for an upside, the speaker continued, "But I don't think that that's new, I think that that's already been reported on. I think that was something that was in the New York Times, gosh, a month or two ago."
Van Susteren replied, "I think the big difference here is that we're not hearing it from anonymous sources."
"Yeah I think that's right," Ryan responded. "That's right. The difference is we're getting it tomorrow, you'll have it live in person."
Later, he added "FBI directors are supposed to be independent, that’s something that’s very, very critical."
But Ryan stopped way short of suggesting Trump shouldn't be allowed to nominate a replacement for the FBI chief role. He said the president's pick, former Department of Justice official and Chris Christie lawyer Christopher Wray, "seems to fit the bill for an independent prosecutor, career-professional type ... we typically look for someone whose going to be independent but also that that position is treated independently and this obviously crosses that."
Trump critics have insisted any nominee to head the FBI should be blocked, as his aggressive efforts to recruit Comey to his cause demonstrate an unacceptable risk the director's successor will be compromised.
Though Ryan has worked extensively with Trump to try and get the Republican agenda through Congress, the relationship between the two has at times seemed less warm and more like a rocky alliance of necessity. Ryan's initial endorsement of candidate Trump carefully avoided saying much about Trump himself. In March, pro-Trump site Breitbart leaked audio of Ryan trashing Trump after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, saying he was "not going to defend Donald Trump — not now, not in the future."