Speaking publicly for the first time since his abrupt firing, former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
In his opening remarks, Comey did not mince words, stating that “President Trump’s explanations surrounding his firing, didn’t make sense to me.” The initial letter to Comey sent by Trump, specified reasons for his firing was because of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Comey added, “Long after that investigation, he repeatedly told me I was doing a great job.” “The shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me.”
Former FBI Director James Comey accused the Trump administration of spreading lies during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
As the hearing progressed, Comey said it became clear to him that Trump “was looking to get something in exchange for keeping his job.” Comey said, after the firing, the White House chose “to defame me and then the FBI,” by saying there was disarray at the bureau. “Those were lies,” Comey said. “I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them.”
Comey testified that he believes Trump fired him to relieve pressure from the ongoing FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
“I was fired in some way to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted,” Comey said. “That is a big deal. On top of that, the Russia investigation itself is vital because of the threat, and if any American were part of that, that is a very big deal.’’
Comey said that after his very first meeting, he began documenting his interactions with Trump. When asked why, Comey’s replied, “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” Comey made clear he never felt the need to take notes to memorialize his interactions with former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Sen. Richard Burr, (R-NC)., Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, pressed Comey to confirm that he did not have evidence that the Russia cyber effort altered any votes in the 2016 election. Comey added, “I’ve seen no indication of that whatsoever.” Comey also confirmed—no one pressured him to stop the Russia investigation.
Comey testified that Trump never specifically asked or directed him to drop the investigation of Flynn; instead, Comey said—it was his impression from Trump’s comment that he hoped “you can let this go.”
A major point queried—whether the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians—Comey refused to answer—saying it falls under the purview of a current investigation. He also declined to answer a series of specific questions, including whether the Trump campaign sought to conceal communications with the Russians via encrypted devices or by destroying documents.
Why didn’t Comey speak up sooner?
The looming question hanging over Comey’s head like a dark cloud was asked by both Republicans and Democrats—why he didn’t confront the president to tell him his behavior was inappropriate or go public with his story sooner?
Comey’s response, “There was no one in a position to take action.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Comey’s superior at the time, had recused himself from the Russia probe. Comey added, “There were no other senior leaders at the Department.” “We decided we gotta keep it away from our troops,” or the FBI career investigators, so it didn’t interfere with their work. They decided to “hold it, keep it in a box, document it, and let the investigation go on.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA)., pressed Comey on why he didn’t directly confront President Trump in an Oval Office meeting that Comey outlines in his opening statement. “Maybe if I were stronger I would have,” he said. “I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in,” he said. “Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better,” he said.
Comey’s Response about the Dossier
Comey refused to respond to questions about the dossier compiled by Ex-M16 officer Christopher Steele, alleging the Russian government had compromising information about President Trump.
Comey testified on his first meeting with then-president-elect Trump at Trump Tower in January. During the January meeting, Comey briefed Trump on an intelligence community investigation into “Russian efforts to interfere with the election.” Comey notes: the IC leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified.
Comey’s statement refers to the dossier published by Buzzfeed earlier this year. Content within the dossier asserted that Russia had thoroughly compromised Trump with both financial dependence and blackmail, notably referred to as Kompromat—a term scholars of Russian and post-Soviet politics have long been aware of.
The dossier is the source of the comment in Comey’s written testimony that Trump told him he had no involvement with Russia and that he had no involvement with “hookers in Russia.”
The Lynch and Clinton Revelation
Comey told the Senators that he felt it necessary to make his public declarations about Hillary Clinton’s email server—in part—based upon then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch advising him to refer to the occurrence as a matter, not an investigation. Comey testified that Lynch’s meeting on an airport tarmac with former President Bill Clinton raised concerns about the credibility of the investigation. Lynch’s proposed language “tracked the way the campaign was talking about the FBIs’ work,” Comey said, and that “gave me a queasy feeling.”
Obstruction of Justice or Hope?
Sen. James Risch, (R-ID), pressed hard on whether Trump’s words that he “hoped” Comey could drop his probe into Flynn, amounted to obstruction of justice. “Hoping for something is not tantamount to obstruction,” Risch argued. Comey’s response made clear that he disagreed. “Those words are not an order,” said Comey. “I took it as a direction.”
Comey responded by also saying that it was not his job to determine whether Trump’s statements amounted to obstruction.
Comey’s Intent on Leaked Memos
Comey admits placing a story in the New York Times about the existence of memos documenting his one-on-one conversations with Trump. Comey admitted to passing the information to the media via a Columbia Law School professor and friend.
Republicans questioned Comey’s actions and asked if he was authorized to leak information public. Comey told concerned Republicans that he viewed the memos as his “personal property” and not the government’s property. He added, “I thought it very important to get it out,” said Comey.
When asked why he didn’t give the memos to the reporter, Comey said “The media was camped out at the end of my driveway” and “I was worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.” He told the Senate Intel Committee that he expected the leak of the memos would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Trump-Russia investigation.