Former FBI Director James Comey is preparing to begin his testimony about President Donald Trump in less than two hours. His pre-written statement to the Senate, which was released on Wednesday, foreshadows a testimony that could turn the nation on its head. Comey is set to begin his testimony before a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m. Eastern.
Trump’s critics are seeking enough evidence to begin impeachment proceedings, while his allies are hoping for proof that he didn’t cross the line. The question on everyone’s mind today is whether the President could be guilty of obstruction of justice, but a source close to James Comey reportedly told Fox News that he “will not reach any legal conclusion about whether Trump engaged in ‘obstruction of justice.'”
James Comey: Trump demanded “loyalty”
In his seven-page opening statement, Comey alleged that Trump had told him to stop investigating former national security advisor Michael Flynn. In describing some of his interactions with the President before he was fired from his post as FBI director, he used words such as “concerned” and said that the conversations left him feeling uncomfortable, according to ABC News.
Comey claimed that President Trump had told him, “I need loyalty; I expect loyalty.”
The then-FBI director said he only promised the President “honesty,” to which he responded, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.”
Comey reportedly pledged that Trump would get that from him.
However, last month, Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that the President had demanded that Comey be loyal to him.
James Comey appeared uncomfortable with Trump
The former FBI director’s opening statement before today’s Senate hearing appears to indicate to some that Trump was obsessing over the investigation of Flynn. The President’s critics are interpreting this part of his statement to suggest obstruction of justice, while his allies see it as him asking an aide to help one of his friends. Fox News reports that Comey later understood that the President was only talking about Flynn personally and not to the broader investigation into allegations of Russian tampering with the presidential election.
However, he also said he became so uncomfortable with the discussions that at one time, he reportedly urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not allow “any further direct communication between the President and me.”
He also alleged that the President had pressured him to clear his own name in addition to dropping the probe. James Comey backed up Trump’s claims that he had told the President that he was not personally being investigated.
The Senate hearing is slated to begin in about an hour from now. A live stream of the event is embedded below.
We will update this post as more information comes in.
James Comey: I and the FBI were defamed
James Comey’s earliest testimony to kick off the Senate hearing is focused on his departure from the FBI and called into question the circumstances around his firing. He said that he heard conflicting reasons for his departure and that he and the agency were wronged and assured the American people that the FBI will remain honest and independent in its investigation. He seems very focused on just and protecting the reputation of the intelligence agency.
The initial questions focused on Russia and whether he believed that the Russians had tried to interfere with the election, and he repeatedly stated that he had no doubts that they did try to interfere. The questions then moved into discussions about whether foreign governments reach out to candidates during and after an election and about where the line is between coercion, collusion, and legal cooperation.
James Comey also said during the early part of his testimony during the hearing that he was told to stop calling the Russia situation an “investigation” and start calling it a “matter.” He said that confused and concerned him.
He began documenting every meeting he had with Trump and stated that he was concerned that the President might lie about the nature of some of their meetings and thus began keeping a written record in case it would be needed at some point. He kept a written record for nine conversations as Trump asked to meet with him one on one. He felt like this is the first President he was concerned might lie about the nature of their meetings. James Comey has served under presidents of both parties.
The questions during the hearing turned toward the President’s focus on loyalty. The former FBI director emphasized that the position was about “the facts and the law.” When asked about one of the times Trump asked everyone else to leave, and Comey said Sessions and a few others seemed to feel like they should linger, and he said he felt the need to document it. He also wrote a memo in a way that it could be unclassified so that the Senate committee could get access to it during the investigation.
Comey made it clear that the President was not under investigation while he was FBI director. The questions turned to a story by The New York Times suggesting that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. In his testimony, noted the problem with media reports about classified information, which is that those who know the facts aren’t talking about it and those who are talking about it often don’t actually know what’s going on. He emphasized that The New York Times report was not true.
**All given times are Eastern.
11:02 a.m. — The questions turned toward Comey’s discussions with the President about Flynn. He again said Trump was “hoping” that he could let things go and that he felt the hope was about Flynn personally and not about the broader Russia investigation. He was then asked about “the McCabe thing.” Trump had asked how he would be during his presidency because Trump felt that he had been rough on him and his wife while on the campaign trail, but Comey reassured him that McCabe “was a total pro” so he didn’t need to worry.
11:07 a.m. Summary of three things the president asked for: His loyalty, James Comey said he would be honestly loyal. He asked him to let the Mike Flynn thing go and that he was a good guy and treated unfairly. And number three, please tell the American people that I’m [Trump] not under investigation.
11:09 a.m. Next questioner referenced a “testimony of why the odor of presidential abuse of power is strong.” He asked about the President trying to establish some sort of patronage relationship with Comey, and Comey said that’s what he felt. He also asked about Attorney General Sessions’ behavior and relationship with the situation and what led the FBI to decide to stop keeping him engaged in the Russia investigation. And he heard that Sessions was planning to recuse himself in the investigation, and he indeed did not long later.
11:15 a.m. Yates found that Flynn could be blackmailed by the Russians. Asked about VP Pence and his role in the transition, was he aware of the concerns about Flynn during his tenure as national security advisor. He hesitated and said he thought yes. Do you know who may have been involved in your firing, and James Comey said he did not.
11:20 a.m. Trying to understand if there was any kind of investigation of the President underway. Comey testified about what Americans they had counterintelligence cases open on. Context was counterintelligence, but he wasn’t trying to hide a criminal investigation. Trump was not under investigation at the time of his dismissal. She emphasized that the President’s behavior of asking him to let Flynn go was wrong but then asked why he didn’t turn it around and tell Trump that it was wrong to demand a one on one meeting. She wanted to know later did he go to anyone at the DoJ and ask them to explain to the White House Counsel Office to explain to the President his role. He expressed his concern about how Trump was interacting with the FBI. He said in his testimony that he told Sessions that it can’t happen that he is kicked out of the room and he’s one on one with the President.
11:25 a.m. President tweeted that he hoped there weren’t any tapes. He hoped to prompt a special counsel. The next member asked about Trump referring to Russia’s intervention in the election as a hoax and “fake news,” and James Comey stated that the Russians definitely interfered with purpose and sophistication and it’s as “unfake as you can possibly get.” And he’s glad to see a bipartisan interest in this.
11:30 a.m. Asked why they should believe him and not Trump. He said he tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate. And said why would you as President kick the attorney general and everyone out of the Oval Office to talk to him. He said also look at his record. Next was asked about Trump administration setting up a backdoor to communicate with the Russian government to evade U.S. intelligence. He wouldn’t say during the hearing whether that happened in an open setting but said it risks letting them listen to everything instead of just what you want them to hear.
11:35 a.m. Sen. Roy Blunt asked James Comey during the hearing about the one on one meetings with President Trump and asked to clarify about being in a room alone and being on the phone alone. He answered that it was important for Sessions to be between him and the White House. He also asked about the information he gave to a friend to get it into the media. He told his friend to tell about the Flynn conversation. He understood it to be his recollection as a private citizen to share that with the American people. He gave them to a third party because the media was camping outside his house and didn’t want to “feed the seagulls.”
11:40 a.m. Sen. King addressed the hearing to ask about the Russians and that they are opportunistic and “will be back.” He asked about a one on one dinner with Trump, as the President had said that he had asked for the dinner because he wanted to stay on. But he said that was false because the President had asked him for the dinner. And he said he did not initiate communications with Trump.
11:55 a.m. Referencing Russia and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and was told by previous attorney general Yates to call the situation a “matter” rather than an “investigation.” It concerned him because he had been repeatedly denying that there was an investigation and it was looking “silly” and Clinton campaign was using euphemisms and he wanted to find out whether Yates was going to authorize him to admit that they were probing the matter. The language tracked the way the campaign was talking about it. Gave impression that attorney general was aligning the way FBI talked about its work with the way the campaign was talking about it. Gave him a “queasy feeling.”
12:05 p.m. Do you believe Trump colluded with the Russians? James Comey wouldn’t answer in the open hearing but he expects the answer to come out. He wouldn’t go down the path because he isn’t in the government anymore and doesn’t want to give testimony on the topic in an open hearing.
The hearing continues, so you can watch his testimony via the live stream below.