WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he took President Donald Trump’s request on February 14 to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn “as a direction.”
Republican Sen. James Risch pointed out to Comey that, according to his written testimony, Trump told Comey during a private meeting one day after Flynn was forced to resign that he “hoped,” rather than “expected,” that the FBI would let the Flynn investigation go.
But Comey replied that he interpreted Trump’s comment “as a direction” to end the investigation related to Flynn’s contacts with the Russians.
“The context and the president’s words are what led me to that conclusion,” Comey told Sen. Dianne Feinstein, when she asked him to elaborate on what he told Risch.
“Flynn had been forced to resign the day before, and the controversy was centered around whether he had lied about the nature of his conversations with the Russians,” Flynn said. “[When we met] on the 14th, the president made specific reference to that. So I understood him as saying he wanted me to drop the investigation related to Flynn’s conversations with the Russians.”
Trump’s defenders have argued that Trump asked Comey to think about letting the Flynn investigation go because he felt bad for his former national security adviser and didn’t understand that his request might be seen as an attempt to influence or impede the investigation.
But Comey’s statement that he saw Trump’s comment as a direction rather than a suggestion raises questions about whether the FBI’s special counsel, Robert Mueller — who has reportedly been in constant contact with Comey — will investigate whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he asked Comey to drop the Flynn probe.
Comey said he told the president that Flynn “is a good guy,” but wouldn’t commit to dropping the probe. Asked why he did not tell Trump in that moment that what he was requesting was unethical, Comey told Feinstein that he was “so stunned” by the conversation that he simply “took it in.”
He added that he did not tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the conversation, which he recorded in a memo, because he had information to suggest that Sessions would soon recuse himself from the probe. But he told the committee he could not disclose that information in a public session. Sessions recused himself in late February after reports surfaced that he had had more than one undisclosed conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Comey said he relayed the details of the conversation with his chief of staff, the FBI’s deputy director, the bureau’s general counsel, the deputy director’s chief counsel, and the associate deputy director. The head of the FBI’s national security branch was also apprised of the meeting, he said.
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