Comey to Testify that Trump Tried to Shut Down Flynn Investigation
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases Comey's prepared statement in advance of tomorrow's hearing.
Fired FBI director James Comey will testify openly to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed President Donald Trump was specifically attempting to influence him into ending the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's possible ties to Russia.
Comey's testimony is not until tomorrow, but the advance written version of his prepared statements is now available through the Senate Intelligence Committee's site. And what it shows affirms what has been leaked through sources to the media for several weeks: Comey believed that Trump was unduly attempting to influence an investigation, that he wanted Comey's "loyalty," and that he wanted Comey to somehow clear the Russia discussion off the table.
The full seven-page document may be read here. But below are some pivotal highlights.
Comey establishes early on that didn't ever feel compelled to document private conversations with President Barack Obama because there were only ever two:
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. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months—three in person and six on the phone.
Trump and Comey's first one-on-one meeting was at a dinner in the Green Room in the White House. Here is where Comey claims that Trump demanded Comey's loyalty. The president didn't seem to grasp that the FBI is supposed to maintain a level of independence from the White House:
I added that I was not "reliable" in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.
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.
Again Trump said he wanted loyalty. Comey responded that he would offer honesty. Trump apparently decided to combine the words and say that he wanted "honest loyalty." Comey let that sit without correcting further. Trump also asked Comey to consider investigating the whole "Russian hookers" story to prove it didn't happen. Comey pointed out that the result would be creating a narrative that the FBI was investigating Trump personally, which was something Trump was trying to avoid.
In February, Trump took Comey aside to ask him to try to get the Flynn investigation dropped:
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."
Comey then prepared a memo that explained wto the FBI leadership what had happened:
I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.
They decided not to tell the investigative team and the Department of Justice lawyers working with them about the president's request, concerned that it might "infect" the investigation. Comey did (as was reported yesterday evening) ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prevent the president from attempting to communicate directly with him. Comey says Sessions didn't respond. He did not tell Sessions about Trump's request to drop the investigation.
In March, Trump called Comey and makes it clear he was very agitated that all the discussion about Russia's influence won't go away:
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." I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.
He wanted Comey to "get that fact out" that Trump himself was not under investigation. (That's a recurring theme in Comey's testimony.) Comey did, in fact, tell Trump multiple times that he was not personally under investigation. Trump definitely remembered that detail when he ultimately fired Comey. But Comey also notes that the Justice Department didn't want to make public statements to that effect in the event that circumstances changed and they did have to investigate Trump, because then they'd have to make another public statement.
And then there's their final phone call, dated April 11 (Comey was fired on May 9):
On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I "get out" that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that "the cloud" was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.
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.
More, obviously, to come.