In Testimony Over Russian Probe, Comey Accuses Trump of Lying
Fired FBI Director James Comey once again commanded the national spotlight Thursday, bluntly accusing President Donald Trump of lying, and trying to interfere with the ongoing probes that have dogged his presidency.
In nearly three hours of dramatic testimony, Comey said he believed that the president directed him to abandon the probe of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and “lift the cloud” of the broader investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials by publicly clearing Trump’s name.
Comey said his one-on-one meetings and calls with the president made him uncomfortable and that he never agreed to Trump’s entreaties, including a request for his “loyalty.” Comey was fired last month, less than four years into his 10-year term.
“I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted,” Comey said.
The testimony raised questions about whether Trump sought to obstruct justice, and strongly recalled Comey’s similarly dramatic appearance before Congress in 2007, when he detailed his refusal to re-authorize a wiretapping program in defiance of the George W. Bush White House.
Back then, Comey was second-in-command at the Justice Department. He vowed to resign before agreeing to endorse a program he believed might be illegal. As FRONTLINE reported in United States of Secrets, Comey suddenly found himself in defiance of the White House. Watch what happened in the clip below:
In his testimony Thursday, the former FBI director told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he so distrusted the president that he began taking notes of their interactions. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said.
Comey also staunchly defended his reputation and that of the bureau, saying that Trump tried to “defame” him and the FBI when he said it was “poorly led” and that the bureau’s agents had lost confidence in him.
Under questioning, Comey admitted he asked a friend to share one of his memos with a reporter, in the hopes of forcing the appointment of a special counsel to lead the Russia investigation. One week after Comey was fired, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Comey declined to say whether he thought Trump had tried to obstruct justice, leaving that for Mueller to determine.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement stressing that Comey had said that the president was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference. He said Comey’s testimony proved Trump hadn’t tried to interfere in FBI investigations. “The President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone,” he said.
While Comey repeatedly declined to get into specifics about the Russia investigation, he said: “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that … It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as unfake as you can possibly get.”