Ex-FBI director James Comey is to testify under oath today that Donald Trump pressed him for his “loyalty” and pushed him to “lift the cloud” of investigation shadowing his White House by declaring publicly the president was not the target of the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties.
Mr Comey’s detailed and vivid recollections of his one-on-one conversations with Mr Trump were revealed in seven pages of prepared testimony released on Wednesday, the day before his much-anticipated appearance before the Senate intelligence committee. His remarks paint a picture of an FBI director so disconcerted by his interactions with the president that he began keeping written memos of their private discussions.
He will tell politicians he believed the president was trying to create a “patronage relationship” with him and describe in detail an Oval Office meeting in which Mr Trump urged him not to investigate ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials. But the ex-FBI director also will validate Mr Trump’s assertion that he was not personally a target of the federal counterintelligence investigation into possible campaign collusion with Russia. Mr Comey said he did offer the president that “assurance,” but resisted Mr Trump’s appeals to make that information public.
“The FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change,” Mr Comey said in the prepared remarks.
Mr Trump’s personal lawyer said the president was cheered by the testimony. “The president is pleased that Mr Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe,” attorney Mark Kasowitz said in a statement. “The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”
Mr Comey has not spoken publicly since he was abruptly fired by Mr Trump on May 9. His dismissal, four years into a 10-year term, fuelled claims Mr Trump’s ultimate aim was to quash the investigation and obstruct justice, potentially a federal crime or an impeachable offence. Some legal experts said Mr Comey’s account could bolster such a case.
Mr Comey’s statement came hours after two top intelligence officials told politicians they never felt “pressured” to do anything inappropriate by the president. But Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, angered members of the Senate intelligence committee by staunchly refusing to answer questions about conversations they had with Mr Trump.
The ex-FBI director’s testimony recounts his conversations with the apparent precision of a veteran lawman. Mr Comey notes he had nine one-on-one interactions with Mr Trump over a four-month stretch, compared to two private conversations with President Barack Obama between September 2013 and the end of 2016. He also said he did not keep written memos of his interactions with Mr Obama.
The first meeting with Mr Trump after the inauguration occurred on January 27, during a private dinner at the White House that Mr Comey came to view as an attempt by the president to “create some sort of patronage relationship”. According to Mr Comey, Mr Trump asked if he wanted to remain as FBI director and declared: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” Mr Comey said he replied that he could offer his honesty, and that when Mr Trump said he wanted “honest loyalty”, Mr Comey paused and said, “You will get that from me.”
Mr Comey also describes at length a February 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which he believed Mr Trump asked him to back off an investigation into Flynn. “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,'” Mr Comey said, according to the prepared remarks. He said he believed the president was talking only about Mr Flynn, not about the broader Russia probe.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unsure if the president read Mr Comey’s testimony after its release. Asked whether the president stood by earlier assertions that he had neither sought Mr Comey’s loyalty nor asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, she said: “I can’t imagine the president not standing by his own statement.”