Comey: Trump felt Russia investigation was impairing his ability to act as president
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Ahead of his testimony at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey's opening statement was released.
(Reading on our mobile app? Click here to read the full statement)
In his statement, Comey breaks down his interactions with President Trump before and after he was inaugurated.
The five communications are broken down below:
JANUARY 6, 2017
Comey describes this as the first time he met then-President-Elect Donald Trump at his tower in New York. The meeting was meant, along with other leaders in the Intelligence Community “to brief him and his new national security team on the findings of an IC assessment concerning Russian efforts to interfere in the election.”
The then-FBI director stayed behind for a moment to talk to Trump about what he described “some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment.”
“The IC leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified.”
Comey said he advised the president of said information because the media was to report about it, and any effort to compromise him “we could blunt any such effort with a defensive briefing.”
He decided to brief Trump alone due to the sensitive nature of the allegations.
Describing the difference between counter-intelligence investigations and criminal investigative work, Comey provides context to Trump’s own words that the FBI wasn’t investigating him.
“In that context, prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.”
Comey then said he documented his first conversation in a memo immediately following 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.”
JANUARY 27, 2017
The second interaction Comey detailed about Trump was at a dinner in the Green Room at the White House.
Comey said he assumed others would be dining with them, but when he showed up, it was only the two of them.
"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."
The then-FBI director speaks to his instincts, noting the one-on-one interaction and the first discussion about his employment, "meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship."
This concerned Comey.
He told the president he intended to serve his entire 10-year term, and he would always tell Trump 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."
Comey continues, "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."
Comey said he explained the importance of the FBI and Department of Justice operating independent of the White House.
The opening statement reads, "[Trump] 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."
At the end of the dinner, Trump turned the conversation to the "salacious material" he received on January 6.
"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."
FEBRUARY 14, 2017
On Valentines Day, Comey arrived to the Oval Office for a scheduled counter-terrorism briefing with the president.
Also in attendance: the vice president, deputy director of the CIA, director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General.
After the meeting, Trump told everyone he wished to speak with Comey alone.
Once everyone had left, Trump told Comey he wanted to talk about Michael Flynn, who had resigned a day earlier.
"The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify."
Trump then expressed concerns that Comey admits he still shares about leaks of classified information to the media. They ended the conversation with Trump returning to the subject of Flynn, expressing to Comey "I hope you can let this go."
Comey recounts that he did not say he would "let this go."
"I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. 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. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency."
Leadership speaking to the issue with Comey felt the president's request would not be shared with the investigative team.
He also states they did not intend to abide by the request.
"After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed. The investigation moved ahead at full speed, with none of the investigative team members – or the Department of Justice lawyers supporting them – aware of the President’s request."
Comey said he assumed AG Jeff Sessions would likely recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations.
The former-FBI director then spoke with Sessions later in the day about leaks from the White House.
That's when Comey said he asked Sessions 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."
MARCH 30, 2017
Comey then describes a phone call he received from the president.
"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."
Trump asked Comey what could be done to "lift the cloud."
The president then asked Comey about the congressional hearing on Russia that took place the previous week.
Comey said he explained to the president that Congress was demanding more information - claiming Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) "had even held up the confirmation of the deputy attorney general until we briefed him in detail on the investigation."
"I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump."
That's when Trump said "we need to get that fact out."
Comey's opening statement he'll orate Thursday moves on to discuss conversations about FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and campaign donations.
"He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated. I told him I would see what we could do, and that we would do our investigative work well and as quickly as we could."
Once the phone call ended, Comey said he reahed out to Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, as Sessions had recused himself.
He didn't hear back before his final interaction with Trump
APRIL 11, 2017
Comey's final conversation with Trump was over the phone.
The president "asked what I had done about his request that I 'get out' that he is not personally under investigation."
Again, Trump reiterated "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."
Trump said he would heed Comey's advice:
“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."