Former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday about his conversations with President Trump on the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Here are a few key takeaways from his testimony:
Comey cuts Trump: ‘He might lie’
In his opening remarks, Comey went straight at Trump, saying the president’s conflicting explanations for his firing “didn’t make any sense to me.” In an initial letter firing Comey, Trump said it was because of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But long after that investigation, “He had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job,” Comey said. “The shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me."
Later in the hearing, Comey said it eventually became clear to him that Trump “was looking to get something” in exchange for allowing Comey to keep his job. Then, after the firing, the White House chose “to defame me and then the FBI,” Comey said, 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,” he said.
After his very first meeting, Comey began documenting his interactions with Trump. When asked why, Comey was frank: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” He also made clear he never felt the need to take notes to memorialize his interactions with former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Comey makes some key Trump points
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the Intelligence Committee chairman, succeeded in getting Comey to confirm some key Republican talking points, including that he did not see any evidence that the Russia cyber effort altered any votes in the 2016 election. “I’d seen no indication of that whatsoever,” said Comey. He also confirmed no one asked him to stop the overall Russia investigation, as his interaction with Trump related specifically to the FBI’s probe into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Comey admitted as well that Trump never specifically asked or directed him to drop the investigation of Flynn; instead Comey said that was his impression from Trump's comment that he hoped "you can let this go."
Yet on another major point -- 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.
Dossier no dice
Comey repeatedly refused to discuss an explosive dossier compiled by a former British spy that alleged the Russian government has compromising information about the president. Comey's conversations with Trump had begun with Comey deciding to brief the then-president-elect on the contents of that dossier. Comey said Thursday he could not discuss it because it’s still part of an ongoing investigation. This dossier is the source of the comment in Comey's written testimony that Trump had told him he had no involvement with Russia and that he had no involvement with "hookers in Russia."
Was it obstruction of justice?
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, sought to pin Comey down 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.”
But he also said it is not his job to determine whether Trump's statements amounted to obstruction.
New news on Lynch and Clinton
Comey said he felt it necessary to make his 2016 public declarations about Hillary Clinton's email server in part because then-attorney general Loretta Lynch had told him to refer to it as a "matter" not an "investigation." That and Lynch's meeting on an airport tarmac with former president Bill Clinton raised concerns for Comey 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.”
Why didn’t Comey speak up sooner?
Comey was asked by both Democrats and Republicans why he didn’t confront the president to tell him his behavior was inappropriate or go public with his story sooner.
There was no one in a position to take action, said Comey. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Comey’s then boss — was poised to recuse himself from the Russia probe and “there were no other senior leaders at the department,” said Comey. “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, said Comey.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed Comey on why he didn’t directly confront the president 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.
'Feeding seagulls at the beach'
Comey acknowledged he placed a story in the New York Times about the existence of his memos documenting his conversations with Trump. Comey said he passed the information to the media via a Columbia Law School professor who is a friend. Republicans pounced, questioning whether Comey was authorized to make that information public. Comey said he considered their contents to be his personal property and not the government’s property. “I thought it very important to get it out,” said Comey.
Asked why he didn’t give it directly 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 also acknowledged that he expected the leak of the memos would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Trump-Russia investigation.
Comey also made note of the fact that President Trump has tweeted that there may be tapes of their conversations. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey said.
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