Donald Trumped: Comey says Prez is a liar – and admits he's a leaker
Testimony paints lurid picture (and we’re not talking golden showers)
Analysis Former FBI director James Comey today spoke in public for the first time about his relationship with President Donald Trump, and he didn't stint in calling out the Leader of the Free WorldTM on being economical with the truth.
At a hearing in Washington DC, Comey claimed the president asked for a personal loyalty oath at a private dinner after he assumed office. He sought to establish a quid-pro-quo relationship that would see the director keep his job in exchange for dropping the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's connections with Russia – a claim Trump denies:
Comey said that his relations with Trump were unusual. He had nine one-to-one conversations with the president in four months – three in person and six on the phone – compared to two in the eight years of President Obama's terms of office and one with President Bush when Comey was US Deputy Attorney General.
He told the US Senate Intelligence Committee that the oddity of having that much contact, combined with Trump's reputation and his own "gut feeling," prompted him to carefully document every meeting with the president in a series of memos, which are right now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller.
"I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting and so I felt it important to document," he testified.
And he didn't stop there. Comey didn't mention the unfortunate circumstances of his firing directly – he was addressing FBI interns about job opportunities in the service when TV screens behind him flashed up the news – but he took serious issue with how the administration characterized his departure.
"The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader," he said.
"Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI work force had to hear them and I am so sorry that the American people were told them."
Tell me three times, baby
In his initial testimony Comey confirmed Trump's claim in his termination letter that the director assured him three times that there was no investigation into The Donald's personal involvement in collusion with the Russians. Multiple Republican senators hammered this point home over the hearing.
But that's a tricky tack to take, because the circumstances of those assurances aren't particularly beneficial to the president's case. Comey's first meeting with the president came on January 6, when Comey paid a visit to Trump Tower in New York, and it wasn't a comfortable discussion.
He said that the head of all US intelligence agencies, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James "no collection" Clapper, asked Comey to personally brief Trump on the allegations from a former MI6 operative that Russian intelligence had a video of an unsavory watersports incident in a foreign hotel suite.
Clapper handed the job off to Comey because the DNI was retiring and the FBI chief agreed to do it one-on-one to "minimize potential embarrassment to the President-elect." Trump denied the allegations and asked if he was under personal scrutiny by the FBI, and Comey said that he was not.
Senator Angus King (I-ME) said that Trump claimed Comey asked for a dinner with him to discuss his future job prospects. Comey disputed that claim, saying the president called him, and at a rather inconvenient time.
He claims he got a call from Trump at lunchtime on Friday, January 27 while at his desk, asking him to dinner at 1830 at the White House. That posed something of a problem, as he had a date with his wife scheduled for that night.
"I hung up and had to call my wife and break a date with her – I was supposed to take her out to dinner that night," he said. "In retrospect, I love spending time with my wife, I wish I had been there that night."
"That's one of the all-time great excuses for breaking a date," King commented.
What's a threat?
Comey said that on arrival at the White House, he was surprised to discover that President Trump had planned dinner for two, set at a small oval table in the middle of the Green Room.
The dinner began with Trump asking Comey if he liked being the FBI boss and wanted to stay on. He explained to the FBI director that many other people wanting his job, a statement Comey said he found odd, since the president had already twice assured him that he was secure in his position.
Later in the dinner the president said: "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," according to testimony. Comey said he was careful not to react or respond, and an awkward silence followed.
The ex-FBI head said that he thought Trump was implying that if he didn't play ball then he could be out of a job. He claims to have spent time explaining to the president why an independent judiciary was important.
By Comey's account, Trump then said that he was considering ordering Comey to investigate the Russian video claims to disprove them, but the FBI director advised him against such a course, since it might look like there was an investigation into Trump himself, which there wasn't.
The third denial came on the morning of March 30, when Trump called Comey at FBI headquarters. The president was pissed off that the Russian investigations were casting "a cloud" over his administration.
Trump said he was always aware that he was under surveillance in Russia and said there was no truth to the "hooker" allegations. Comey reassured Trump that he was not under personal investigation and the president asked him to make that public, something Comey said he was unwilling to do, since the FBI would then have to make a statement if it did indeed start investigating Trump.
Comey: I'm a leaker!
After most of his meetings with Trump, Comey said that he made detailed notes as soon as possible and circulated them to senior staff at the FBI. But after he was fired on May 9, and Trump started talking about him online, Comey admitted he became a leaker – giving his notes to a friend to pass to journalists.
The reason given for Comey's firing was originally put down to advice from the Deputy Attorney General that the FBI boss had overstepped his responsibilities by clearing Hillary Clinton publicly of legal issues with running her private email server. But within days, the president contradicted the official line and said it was related to the Russia investigation.
"When I decided [to fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story'," the President said on May 11. The following day he tweeted out a thinly veiled warning to Comey.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
"The President tweeted on Friday, after I got fired, that I better hope there's not tapes," Comey told today's hearing. "I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, there might be a tape."
"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey told Congress.
Comey had written a memo after another unusual meeting with the president on Valentine's Day, when he was asked to stay behind after a meeting of intelligence chiefs in the Oval Office. Trump asked everyone in the room to leave and then asked Comey to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn.
"He's a good guy and has been through a lot," Comey claims Trump said. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy, I hope you can let this go."
The inference unnerved Comey, he said, since while not a direct order, it was not something he was used to hearing from presidents. Comey quoted Henry II's "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?", which led to the murder of Thomas Becket, and Senator King said that was exactly the analogy he was about to use.
Senator Kamela Harris (D-CA) was even more blunt. She remarked to Comey that if someone put a gun to his head and said he hoped he would hand over his wallet, the inference was pretty clear.
After Trump's tweet, Comey said he decided to share the memo of the meeting with a close friend, now identified as Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, with the intention of it being leaked to the press. The New York Times published a story on the meeting using the memo as a basis.
Comey said he leaked the memo to get a special prosecutor involved, which later happened. He didn't leak directly because he feared a media frenzy, saying he was "worried it'd be like feeding seagulls at the beach."
Obstruction of justice?
The memo could prove problematic for Trump in more ways than one. Not only does it contradict his assertion that he didn't ask for the Flynn investigation to be curtailed, but the issue of tapes – or more likely digital recordings – now comes to the fore.
Comey isn't dumb – he wouldn't have made these statements unless he was sure of their veracity. So if there are recordings of that White House dinner, he appears confident that they will bear out his side of the story.
If such recordings exist, then it would also open the door to possible charges of obstruction of justice. Asking law enforcement to go easy on a chum could be seen as obstruction, a charge Comey said he could not make a judgement on.
"I don't know, it's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out," referring to the special counsel for the Russia investigation.
In the wake of Comey's testimony Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer, issued the following statement:
Contrary to numerous false press accounts leading up to today's hearing, Mr Comey has now finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told the President privately: The President was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference. He also admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.
Mr Comey's testimony also makes clear that the President never sought to impede the investigation into attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election, and in fact, according to Mr Comey, the President told Mr Comey, "it would be good to find out" in that investigation if there were "some 'satellite' associates of his who did something wrong." And he did not exclude anyone from that statement.
Consistent with that statement, the President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr Comey "let Flynn go." As he publicly stated the next day, he did say to Mr Comey, "General Flynn is a good guy, he has been through a lot," and also "asked how is General Flynn is doing." Admiral Rogers testified that the President never "directed [him] to do anything ... illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate" and never "pressured to do so." Director Coates said the same thing. The President likewise never pressured Mr Comey.
The President also never told Mr Comey, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" in form or substance. Of course, the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving in an administration, and, from before this President took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications. Mr Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.
Today, Mr Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President. The leaks of this privileged information began no later than March 2017 when friends of Mr Comey have stated he disclosed to them the conversations he had with the President during their January 27, 2017 dinner and February 14, 2017 White House meeting.
Today, Mr Comey admitted that he leaked to friends his purported memos of these privileged conversations, one of which he testified was classified. He also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of these memos to the press in order to "prompt the appointment of a special counsel."
Although Mr Comey testified he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that the New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr Comey's excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information and appears to be entirely retaliatory. We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether these leaks should be investigated along with all those others being investigated.
In sum, it is now established that the President was not being investigated for colluding with the Russians or attempting to obstruct that investigation. As the Committee pointed out today, these important facts for the country to know are virtually the only facts that have not leaked during the long course of these events.
As he said yesterday, the President feels completely vindicated and is eager to continue moving forward with his agenda with this public cloud removed.