9 things we learned from Comey’s prepared Senate remarks
The most-anticipated Senate witness in years decided to speak a full day before his hearing begins. Former FBI director James Comey provided his written opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, one day before the committee is set to question him about the agency’s Russia investigation and his interactions with President Donald Trump.
Comey’s seven-page testimony marks the first time the ousted FBI director publicly confirmed that the president pressured him on multiple investigative fronts.
The document backs up some of what the media has already reported on Comey’s view of the investigation and his relationship with Trump. But other parts of the testimony revealed new information.
Here are some of the stand-out things we learned:
- A direct ask on Flynn. This may be the most critical point in Comey’s testimony. According to Comey, Trump was direct about his interest in the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s version insists that Trump isolated him following a Feb. 14 Oval Office briefing that included several other intelligence officials. Trump asked to speak to Comey alone. As soon as the other officials left the room, Comey says that Trump immediately said he wanted to talk about Mike Flynn. Comey alleges the president said, “I hope you can let this go,”referring to the FBI’s probe of Flynn. After leaving the Oval, Comey immediately prepared a memo detailing the conversation, which was first reported last month. But it was unclear from that memo exactly how the topic of Flynn came up. In his testimony, Comey makes clear that Trump brought up Flynn in their Feb. 14 meeting as soon as they were by themselves in the Oval Office.
- The “cloud.” Mr. Trump repeatedly described the Russia investigation to Comey as “a cloud” he wanted to go away. Trump told Comey the investigation was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.
- Comey confirms that Trump himself was not under investigation. In the statement, Comey makes clear that Trump himself was not under investigation in the FBI’s Russia probe, at the time of their conversations. So at least through April 11.
- Comey told Trump he wasn’t under investigation. Confirming the president’s claim in his May 9 letter firing Comey, the former FBI chief writes that he voluntarily assured Trump on Jan. 6 that the president was not personally under investigation. Comey said that he told the president a second time that he wasn’t under investigation, after Trump raised the matter in a March 30 phone call and asked Comey to “get out” the information. Trump brought the issue up again on April 11, the last time they spoke, when he asked if Comey had taken steps to fulfill Trump’s request to make it known that he wasn’t under investigation.
- But Trump could still be under investigation in the future. Comey did not tell the president something: That he could later *become* under investigation. “I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change,” Comey wrote.
- Nine one-on-ones. Comey and Trump had at least nine one-on-one conversations. Comey says three of the conversations were in person; six took place over the phone. The first was Jan. 6. The last: April 11. Comey was fired May 9.
- The loyalty pledge happened. Comey writes that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty at a dinner on Jan. 27. Comey says he responded that he would give the president“honesty.” What we had not known until now is that Trump pressed again, saying “That’s what I need, honest loyalty.” Comey writes that he paused and replied, “You will always get that from me.” The former FBI director notes that the two men may have understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently.
- Why Comey didn’t tell more people about the Flynn conversation. Comey says he discussed the conversation with a small F.B.I. leadership team, but did not expand beyond that for two reasons: 1. He didn’t want to infect the ongoing F.B.I. investigation and 2. The conversation was one-on-one and could not be corroborated if the president denied it. Comey reports in the testimony that he spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions after his conversation with the president and took the opportunity to “implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me.” Comey also reports he called Acting Deputy Attorney General Data Boente to share that President Trump had asked him to help lift the “cloud” of the Russia investigation. In both cases Comey says the justice department officials did not respond.
- Why Comey started taking notes. Comey writes in his testimony that he immediately started documenting his conversations with Trump. Comey states that he walked out of his first meeting with Trump, and moments later, wrote down what was said on an FBI laptop. Comey points out that this was unusual for him. He says he did not document either of his two one-on-one conversations with President Barack Obama. In his statement, Comey does not say precisely why he so quickly started documenting the Trump conversations.