Former FBI director gives damaging testimony about dealings with U.S. president
Former FBI director James Comey accused the Trump administration Thursday of spreading “lies, plain and simple” about him and the FBI in the aftermath of his abrupt firing in dramatic testimony that threatened to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.
As he opened his much-anticipated first public telling of his relationship with Trump, Comey disputed the Trump administration’s justification for his firing last month, declaring that the administration defamed him and more importantly the FBI by claiming the bureau was in disorder under his leadership.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey told the Senate intelligence committee. “And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.”
In testimony that exposed deep distrust between the president and the veteran lawman, Comey described intense discomfort about their one-on-one conversations, saying he decided he immediately needed to document the discussions in memos.
“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it really important to document,” Comey said. “I knew there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened not only to defend myself but to protect the FBI.”
Comey made his comments as the packed hearing got underway, bringing Washington and parts of the country to a halt as all eyes were glued on televisions showing the hearing. He immediately dove into the heart of the fraught political controversy around his firing and whether Trump interfered in the bureau’s Russia investigation, as he elaborated on written testimony delivered Wednesday.
In that testimony he had already disclosed that Trump demanded his “loyalty” and directly pushed him to “lift the cloud” of investigation by declaring publicly the president was not the target of the FBI probe into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Comey also said in his written testimony that Trump, in a strange private encounter near the grandfather clock in the Oval Office, pushed him to end his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The Senate intelligence committee chairman, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, asked Comey the key question about that encounter: “Do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice or just seek a way for Mike Flynn to save face, given he had already been fired?”
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” Comey replied. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning. But that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offence.”
Later, in a startling disclosure, Comey revealed that after his firing he had tried to spur the appointment of a special counsel by giving one of his memos about Trump to a friend of his to leak to the press.
“My judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square, ” Comey said.