Senators are looking into alleged Russian meddling into the US presidential election of 2016, and Comey is a key witness. Comey once headed the FBI investigation into Russian hacking but was dismissed by Trump because, according to Comey, he went public with the probe.
These were his first public comments since he was sacked and Comey did not hold back. Here are seven things we learned from his testimony:
Comey thinks Trump is a liar. In fact, Comey called the president a liar at least three times during his testimony. After their first meeting at Trump Tower in New York City in January, Comey sat in his car immediately after and typed everything out on a laptop. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it important to document,” Comey told Senators. He documented all nine conversations as a result.
Comey leaked information. In May, three days after he was fired, Comey worried there may actually be a White House tape of one of their conversations. After all, the president had tweeted cryptically that “Comey better hope” there aren’t any tapes of their conversations. So Comey reached out to a law professor friend at Columbia University. He shared his notes with him and asked him to tell a reporter about them. Although he didn’t specify which reporter, the New York Times released a story a day later with many of the details Comey has now confirmed. “I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” Comey said. Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, was appointed special counsel that same week.
Comey challenged Trump to produce tapes. Although the White House won’t confirm the existence of any tapes, Comey told him to bring it on. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” he said during his testimony.
The Obama administration tried to get Comey off the Clinton investigation. During the election campaign of 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch told him to refer to an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton‘s alleged misuse of classified information as “a matter” rather than “an investigation”, according to Comey. He said Lynch’s request “gave me a queasy feeling” because there was no doubt the FBI investigation was just that. In July 2016, Comey announced publicly there was “no clear evidence” Clinton or her subordinates had mishandled classified information.
Kushner and Sessions may have known about Flynn request. On February 14th, during a meeting in the Oval Office, Comey said Trump asked him to “let this go” in reference to an investigation into Trump’s then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian officials during the White House transition. But before Trump made the request, according to Comey, both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a top adviser, lingered in the room. “My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving,” said Comey. “I don’t know Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing.” The president told them to leave. Comey said Trump then made the unusual request. Both Flynn and Comey were later fired.
Comey debated what to tell Sessions. Within Comey’s office, there was much debate about whether to tell Sessions and the Department of Justice about the president’s request to drop the Flynn investigation. Comey said he told several people in his office but they felt Sessions would recuse himself from any Russia investigations because Sessions himself had misled Congress about his own conversations with the Russians while serving as a Trump adviser during the campaign. They were also concerned it would taint the investigation. “We decided the best move would be to hold it, keep it in a box, document it,” Comey said of the president’s request. “Figure out what to do with it down the road. Is there a way to corroborate it? It was our word against the president’s. No way to corroborate this.”
Trump made Comey speechless. Following the request to drop the Flynn investigation, Comey sat in silence. “I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took in,” Comey told the Senate. “I remember saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ as a way of saying, ‘I’m not agreeing with what you asked me to do.'”