Almost a month after he was fired by President Donald Trump as FBI Director, James Comey had a chance to tell his side of the story, as he answered questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, any possible links to the Trump Campaign, and why Comey thought he had been fired from his post.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. Comey says White House lied, defamed FBI. Asked about his firing, Comey said he was confused by the ‘shifting explanations’ from the Trump Administration, but now is convinced that the President did get rid of him in the hopes of reining in the Russia investigation. Comey said the President basically tried to defame him, “and more importantly the FBI,” by claiming that Comey had little support inside the agency.
2. Comey wrote memos because of worries about Trump. The former FBI chief said he started writing down details of his conversations after his first meeting with President-Elect Trump in January. Comey was blunt about the reason for that, saying he was worried that Mr. Trump might lie about the details of their conversations. Comey said he did not take such precautions in his few meetings with President Barack Obama.
3. Comey says Russia meddling is real – not fake news. Comey also rebuked the President’s characterization of the Russia probe, telling Senators that Russia’s interference in 2016 is real. “It’s not a close call, that happened – that’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get,” Comey said at one point during the hearing. Comey also clearly said he felt like he was fired because of the Russia probe.
4. Comey leaked his own memo, and hoped for a special counsel. One of the most straight forward admissions in the hearing was when Comey acknowledged that he had leaked one of his memos about a meeting with President Trump. Comey said he gave the material to a friend – who is a law professor at Columbia University – and had him share it with the New York Times. Comey also flatly said one of his goals was to spur calls for a special counsel to be appointed.
5. Comey admits he did not push back against Trump in person. Republicans repeatedly asked Comey why he didn’t stand up to Trump, and just tell him to his face that he was doing something unacceptable. Comey admitted under questioning that he had never threatened to resign. “I was so stunned by the conversation,” Comey said about Mr. Trump’s indication that he hoped the probe of Michael Flynn would be “let go.” Comey refused to say whether he thought the President’s comments amounted to obstruction of justice.
6. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Comey said he didn’t know if President Trump has recordings of their conversations, but he said he sure hoped there did exist. The former FBI Director said the possibility of how tapes might help his argument struck him in the middle of the night. “Holy cow, there might be tapes,” Comey related his thoughts. “And if there are tapes, it’s not just my word against his on the direction to get rid of the Flynn investigation,” Comey said, referring to what President Trump said to him about the Michael Flynn probe.
7. Was there Trump-Russia collusion? Comey refused to answer questions from Republicans about this matter, saying the question of collusion must be answered by the special counsel investigation. The FBI Director did say that – after an initial briefing on the Russia investigation – President Trump had never asked him any questions about the Russia probe, in terms of what the Russians had done.
8. Is Trump under investigation now? Multiple times, Comey said that President Trump had not been under direct investigation as of his firing almost one month ago. But it wasn’t clear whether some of the questions about the conversations between Mr. Trump and Comey would come under the review of the special counsel investigation.
9. Questions about Clinton email investigation. As he did in a previous hearing, Comey publicly questioned the impartiality of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch when it came to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State. Comey revealed that Lynch had asked him – during Congressional testimony – to acknowledge that there was a “matter” being reviewed, but not use the word “investigation.” Comey also again said the optics of the tarmac meeting between Lynch and former President Clinton were not helpful for the email probe.
10. Special counsel not needed for Clinton email probe. In answering questions about the Clinton email investigation, Comey said he never considered calling for a special counsel for that probe – even with his concerns about Attorney General Lynch – simply because there was “no case there” against Clinton.