Comey Testifies on Capitol Hill
Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor
In a highly anticipated hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey painstakingly detailed his interactions with President Trump. Part of the impact of Comey’s testimony was dissipated as Comey’s prepared opening statement was released the day before. Comey refrained from repeating the seven-page account, instead claiming that public explanations about his subsequent firing “confused” him. “The shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me.” “It confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned again from the media that he was telling privately other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation," Comey said. He closed by defending his leadership of the FBI and called attempts “to defame me” and the FBI “lies, plain and simple.”
Comey repeatedly referred to the circumstances of meetings with President Trump as “concerning” and explained why he felt compelled to make a public record, his memos, of each encounter because of the circumstances, “the nature” of the president. "I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey told the committee. He also felt, however, that it was appropriate and “literally true” to tell the president he was not the target of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. In fact, most of Comey’s testimony concerned the multiple times that he alleges President Trump told him to lift what he called “the cloud” impairing his agenda and publicly announce that president Trump wasn’t under investigation. Comey said that he found it “disturbing” and reported it to the acting Attorney General Dan Boente. Comey explained that it was a matter of internal debate within the FBI - “the scope of the investigation includes the president’s conduct” - and could only confirm that the president was not under investigation when he was fired.
Much of the intrigue surrounding the hearing revolved around a February 14th meeting in which James Comey alleges that President Trump cleared the room to ask him directly about former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Multiple rounds of questioning attempted to extract an accusation of obstruction of justice from the stoic witness but they received none. Comey offered that he felt “something big was about to happen” when Trump asked the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to leave the room. “I got the sense that the AG knew he shouldn’t leave the room,” Comey relayed. However, Comey did not say it was illegal and explained that he did not report the breach of protocol because it may have helped in the case at a later point and he did not want it to “infect” morale in the FBI and the Department of Justice. Mr. Comey, however, claims to have asked Sessions to help run interference to prevent another breach despite testifying that he believed Sessions would ultimately recuse himself from matters related to the investigation of Russian interference. He received no response.
At the core of the hearing was the nature of Trump’s requests of Comey. Comey described a dinner that he felt was meant, at least in part, to create “some sort of patronage relationship” at the White House where he claims President Trump told him, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” Comey testified that he froze and offered only “you will always get honesty from me,” to which the president responded, “honest loyalty.” “You will get that from me,” Comey finally declared to close out the “awkward” dinner conversation. President Trump reportedly disputes details of Comey’s account of the dinner. From that, Comey recalled Trump telling him, “I hope you can let this go,” of Michael Flynn’s ongoing investigation a directive and viewed asking the FBI Director to help “lift the cloud” of the investigation as “inappropriate.” However, as he wrote in his opening statement for the record, Comey says President Trump agreed it would be best to let the investigation continue. In fact, President Trump relented that there might be “satellite” associates that had done something wrong, according to Comey.
In a nutshell, according to Comey, President Trump had requested his loyalty and believed he had it. The president made multiple requests to “let this go” of Michael Flynn’s investigation and “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation. Comey relayed his concerns to the Department of Justice and did not honor the requests. Then, on May 9th, Comey was abruptly fired and left “confused” and “concerned” as the president seemed to link his firing to the Russian investigation. Comey then shared an account of his memo on the February 14th meeting to a friend, a law professor at Columbia University, in order to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. Regardless of Comey’s public testimony, this matter is now under the purview of special counsel Robert Mueller and the discrepancies in Comey’s testimony will be further explored.
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