In testimony that spanned nearly three hours on Thursday, former FBI director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed that President Donald Trump wanted him to make the investigations into his campaign’s connections to Russia disappear, and that he couldn’t trust Trump to tell the truth about their private conversations.
Comey’s testimony didn’t stray far from the public statement he released on Wednesday detailing his encounters with the president, in which Trump demanded “loyalty” and told him in a private Oval Office meeting, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting [Mike] Flynn go.” He refused to say whether he thought Trump colluded with the Russians during the election, and deferred many questions to a private, classified session he is having later on Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” Comey testified. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning. But that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work toward, to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
Republican senator James Lankford asked Comey why it was significant for Trump to tell his FBI director about his displeasure with the investigations, when he had made numerous tweets detailing the same sentiment.
“Quite frankly, the president has informed six billion people that he’s not real fond of this investigation,” Lankford said. “Do you think there’s a difference in that?”
“I think there’s a big difference in kicking superior officers out of the Oval Office, looking the FBI director in the eye, and saying, ‘Hope you let this go,’ ” Comey responded. “I think if agents, as good as they are, if they heard the president of the United States did that, there’s a real risk of a chilling effect on their work.”
In his opening statement, Comey said Trump “defamed” him in the media and on Twitter when he called him a “showboat,” and that the justification for the firing offered by Trump — that FBI officials had lost trust in Comey — was “lies, plain and simple.”
“It confused me when I saw on television that the president fired me because of the Russia investigation,” Comey testified, referring to President Trump’s explanation that Comey’s firing “relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation.”
Comey also declined to divulge any further confirmed details of the Steele dossier, which contained the infamous allegation of a “pee tape,” in which Trump was allegedly recorded by the Russian government while in the company of Russian sex workers. He repeatedly directed questions on that dossier to closed sessions of the committee.
During his testimony, Comey detailed why he decided to leak his private account of his meetings with Trump to the media, after Trump made a tweet referring to “tapes.”
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
“I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, ’cause it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation — there might be a tape,” Comey testified, referring to the Monday following his firing. “And my judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square, so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. So I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
This decision underlined Comey’s belief that the president was capable of lying to the American people, and that Comey needed to set the record straight in ways he did not feel needed to be done when he worked in capacities for either presidents Obama or Bush.
“I believed he might lie about the details of our encounters,” Comey testified.
Comey also revealed that he handed over the memos he had written documenting his encounters with the president to Robert Mueller, who is leading a special investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. Comey reiterated the FBI’s belief that Russia attempted to interfere in the election, and that it was actively looking into how Russia had possibly tried to influence or gain leverage over members of Trump’s campaign.
Contrary to many predictions, Trump himself remained off of Twitter during the duration of the testimony, but curiously, his son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted as the testimony unfolded.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
“This is nowhere near the end of our investigation,” said committee chairman Senator Richard Burr, following Comey’s testimony.