The Most Shocking Lines From The James Comey Testimony
Less than 24 hours before former FBI director James Comey testifies before the Senate on Thursday, the text of his prepared introductory testimony was released. Considering some of the shocking lines from Comey's testimony on his exchanges with Trump over the Russia investigation, it looks to be just as explosive as anticipated.
Comey is scheduled to begin his testimony at 10:00 a.m. ET (that's an early start of 7:00 a.m. for those on the West Coast) on Thursday, June 8, in what was already one of the most hotly anticipated Senate hearings in recent memory.
And the anticipation is only going to increase now that Comey's opening remarks have gone public. They're lengthy, and touch on a number of different meetings between himself and the president, including the widely reported allegation that Trump requested a loyalty pledge from him. Here are some of the most shocking and potentially consequential takeaways from the document, which you'll hear Comey read to the Senate intelligence committee at the start of his testimony tomorrow.
1. Comey Documented His Encounters With Trump
I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past. I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) — once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly,for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions.
Comey's testimony will quickly confirm reports that suggested the former FBI director kept contemporaneous notes about his interactions with the president, some of which he found questionable or troubling. This was not, according to his prepared remarks, how he'd previously handled meetings with Obama. In Trump, he express concern for his disdain for the proper boundaries between the bureau and the executive branch, especially in the context of an ongoing investigation of his campaign.
2. Trump Tried To Create A "Patronage Relationship"
The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away. My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part,an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.
According to Comey, he had a one-on-one dinner with Trump on Jan. 27, just one week after his inauguration, in which Trump asked if he wanted to continue in his job, and noted that he'd understand if he wanted to walk away, given all the "abuse" he'd taken since the election. Considering the private nature of the dinner, and the fact that he'd already told Trump he wanted to stay on as FBI director, Comey interpreted this as an attempt to create a "patronage relationship," to recast them as, in a sense, partners and collaborators.
3. Trump Demanded Comey's Loyalty
A few moments later, the President said, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner. ... He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." I paused, and then said, "You will get that from me." As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase "honest loyalty" differently, but I decided it wouldn't be productive to push it further. The term — honest loyalty — had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.
This is quite the damning statement. Trump, for his part, denied asking Comey for his loyalty, but also insisted it wouldn't be inappropriate to ask for his loyalty to the country.
4. Trump Denied The Salacious Steele Dossier Rumors
During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn't happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren't, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.
The controversial and still-unverified dossier collected by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele included some lurid and startling sexual allegations about Trump, allegations which Comey says the president specifically denied during their dinner. Even further, he suggested he might order Comey to disprove the existence of a sex tape, a course of action the FBI director cautioned against.
5. Trump Urged Comey To Drop The Mike Flynn Investigation
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." I replied only that "he is a good guy." (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would "let this go."
During a later meeting at the White House, Comey says Trump asked everyone else to leave the room so that they could speak privately, then began urging him to let go the investigation of recently resigned national security adviser Flynn. Like many of the biggest takeaways in the statement, this was previously reported, but it's now being confirmed by Comey himself. He also says he didn't perceive Trump as talking about the broader Russia investigation, but specifically Flynn's part of it. Given the importance of the FBI's independence, Comey found the conversation "very concerning."
6. Comey Asked Sessions Not To Leave Him Alone With Trump
Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President's concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply. For the reasons discussed above, I did not mention that the President broached the FBI's potential investigation of General Flynn.
This story broke earlier this week, and it's similarly corroborated in Comey's remarks ― after the meeting in which Trump isolated Comey to talk about Flynn, Comey spoke with Sessions, and told him such an unexpected one-on-one between himself and the president "should never happen."
7. Trump Asked Comey What He Could Do To "Lift The Cloud"
He described the Russia investigation as "a cloud" that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to "lift the cloud."
In a Mar. 30 phone call, Trump asked Comey if he could do something to "lift the cloud" of the FBI's investigation, and again denied engaging in any of the sordid sexual activities alleged by the Steele dossier. Interestingly, Comey also says Trump told him he assumed he was being recorded when he visited Russia, ostensibly as a means of saying he wouldn't be so foolish as to be caught on tape in such a a compromising position.
8. Trump Said It'd Be "Good" To Know If His Associates Did Anything Wrong
The President went on to say that if there were some "satellite" associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn't done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren't investigating him.
He also suggested that it'd be good for him to learn whether any of his associates did anything improper regarding Russia, but that he hadn't done anything, and wanted Comey to publicly say he wasn't under investigation. According to the statement, Comey did indeed privately inform Trump that he was not the target of a counterintelligence investigation prior to his inauguration, although whether he was under any other form of investigation ― or whether that's become the case since after Comey's firing ― is not known.
9. Trump Claimed He'd Shown Loyalty To Comey
... He said he would do that and added, "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know." I did not reply or ask him what he meant by "that thing." I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended. That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.
During Comey's last-ever conversation with Trump, he says the topic of loyalty came up once again. Specifically, Comey says Trump claimed to have shown him loyalty in the past, about "that thing." Comey maintains he has no idea what Trump meant by that, and that he neither replied to the remark nor asked about it further.
10. Comey Organized The Leak Of His Bombshell Memo
During his testimony, Comey said that he purposefully leaked his memo about his exchanges with Trump. “The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I’d better hope there are not tapes,” the former FBI head said. That, Comey explained, prompted him to then ask “a friend of mine to share” his memo with a journalist. As the Washington Post noted, that friend was Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman and it was the New York Times' Michael Schmidt, who received the memo.
Comey defended his decision to share his memo, saying during questioning: "As a private citizen I felt free to share that. I thought it very important.”
Sen. Roy Blount asked Comey why he didn't give the memo to the media directly. In one of the lighter moments of testimony, Comey responded, "The media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point. I was worried it was going to be like feeding seagulls at the beach."
11. Unsharable Details About Session's Need To Recuse
Twitter certainly took notice when Comey noted that there were "facts that I cannot discuss in an open setting" that made Attorney General Jeff Sessions' "continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic."
Sessions' recused himself from any investigations related to Russian interference in the election in March. Just this past week, multiple outlets reported that Sessions offered to resign, in part after Trump was displeased that Sessions recused himself from the investigation. Neither the White House nor the attorney general confirmed that report.
12. Comey Hopes There Are Tapes & He Wants Them Public
Just days after Trump fired Comey from his post at the FBI, the president tweeted what some saw as a threatening message. On May 12, he tweeted "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
However, Comey is all for any tapes being shared to show how their exchanges went. "I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes," the former FBI head said. "The president surely knows if he taped me. If he did, my feelings won't be hurt. Release all the tapes. I'm good with it."
13. Trump's "Tapes" Tweet Actually Prompted The Comey Memo Leak
Trump may ultimately rue the day he decided to threaten Comey with "tapes" that may or may not exist. That tweet came the Friday after Comey was fired by the president. According to the testimony the former FBI gave, it was that tweet that led him to ask a "good friend" — who we now know is Richman — to leak his memo, detailing his exchanges with the president.
14. Lynn's Clinton Email Probe Handling Made Comey "Queasy"
The Trump administration was far from the only object of interest of Comey's testimony. Comey said it was then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch's infamous meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac at a Phoenix airport that lead him to speak about the Clinton private server investigation. Moreover, he noted that he was concerned that Lynch directed him to call the investigation as a "matter" and not, well, a criminal investigation. Specifically, he said of Lynch's direction, "That gave me a queasy feeling."
15. Comey: Trump Fired Me Over The Russia Probe
Comey made it crystal clear during his testimony that he believes it was his oversight of the investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election that ultimately cost him his job. "There’s no doubt," the former FBI director said. "I was fired because of the Russia investigation. The endeavor was to change the way [it] was being conducted.”
It's no stretch to say that Comey's testimony, as well as the questions he fields from the committee, could help establish whether or not Trump engaged in obstruction of justice ― although Comey himself will reportedly not argue that. It'll be carried on all the major news networks, and for convenience's sake, you can also easily watch it online through the YouTube stream embedded above.