Former FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday in a highly anticipated Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that he believed he was fired to change the course of the Russia investigation and that the Trump administration had defamed him.
Though Comey faced questions about the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, much of the hearing focused on his private interactions with President Donald Trump before he fired the director in May.
Comey said the administration tried to “defame” him and the FBI by spreading “lies, plain and simple,” after his departure.
“Although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organisation 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 workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.”
On Wednesday, the former director released his prepared opening remarks for his testimony, in which he said Trump had asked him to pledge his loyalty and requested he end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s connections to Russia.
Comey’s testimony also confirmed that he took meticulous notes about his meetings with the president and told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he did not want to be left alone with Trump because he felt the conversations were inappropriate.
In Thursday’s hearing, Comey said he leaked those notes to the media through a Columbia Law School professor because he felt the White House may deceive the public about the nature of the meetings.
“First, I was alone with the … president-elect,” Comey said of why he took notes. “The subject matter: I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the president, president-elect, personally. And then the nature of the person: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it important to document.”
Trump and his top allies have already pushed back on Comey’s testimony. The Republican National Committee issued talking points dismissing it, while Trump’s attorney released a statement on Wednesday saying he felt vindicated by the former director’s statement that the president was not personally under investigation regarding Russia’s election interference.
“He’s new at government, so therefore, I think he’s learning as he goes,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters. “And you now know why he’s frustrated, because he was told nothing is wrong here, and he wants to get things done for the American people.”
The hearing has captured the attention of much of the political world, drawing comparisons to historic hearings about the Iran-Contra scandal and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Bars in Washington, DC, and San Francisco even opened early for people looking to watch the hearings.
Below are updates from the hearing.
10:18 a.m. — Sen. Mark Warner in his opening statement: “This is not a witch hunt. It’s not fake news. It’s an attempt to protect our country from a new threat that will not go anywhere anytime soon.”
10:22 a.m. — Comey says the shifting White House explanation for his dismissal confused and concerned him: “It confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation.”
10:22 a.m. — Comey: “I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn’t make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made.”
10:24 a.m. — Comey says the Trump administration attempted to discredit him and the FBI: “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. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry that the American people had to hear them.”
10:26 a.m. — Comey tells Sen. Richard Burr that it isn’t for the former director to determine whether Trump explicitly obstructed justice.
10:36 a.m. — Comey on why he documented his meeting with Trump: “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meetings, so I thought it really important to document.” Warner responds: “I think that’s a very important statement you just made.”
10:39 a.m. — Comey explains his sole meeting with President George W. Bush: “I didn’t feel with President Bush the need to document it.”
10:41 a.m. — Comey describes what Trump said to him the day after the inauguration: “What the president whispered in my ear was, ‘I really look forward to working with you.'”
10:44 a.m. — “The reason that Congress created a 10-year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they’re serving” a particular president, Comey said. “It should be about the facts and the law.”
10:46 a.m. — Comey explains his thinking after Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn: “I remember thinking, this is a very disturbing development, really important to our work.”
10:47 a.m. — Comey says Trump did not ask him to interfere in any of the other “tens of thousands” of ongoing FBI investigations.
10:51 a.m. — Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. weighed in on Twitter, saying that when his dad asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation he was not officially ordering Comey to do so. Of the president’s request, Comey said he “took it as a direction.”
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) June 8, 2017
10:57 a.m. — Comey says he hopes there are tapes of his Oval Office discussions with Trump: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
11:02 a.m. — Comey responds to Sen. Marco Rubio’s question about why he didn’t tell the Department of Justice or the White House that Trump had asked him to end the Flynn investigation: “I don’t know. … I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind.”
11:08 a.m. — Sen. Ron Wyden says he disagrees with Comey on digital-privacy issues but was taken aback by Comey’s firing: “I believe the timing of your firing stinks.”
11:11 a.m. — Comey says he cannot discuss in a public setting some of the FBI’s knowledge about issues that would make Sessions’ contact with the Russia investigation problematic.
11:19 a.m. — Sen. Susan Collins: “The president never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go.”
11:23 a.m. — Comey says he said he asked a Columbia Law School professor to share memos with a reporter after Trump tweeted that he may have tapes of conversations between himself and the former director.
11:38 a.m. — Comey responds to Sen. Roy Blunt’s question about why he didn’t tell reporters directly about Trump’s conversation with him about Flynn: “I worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.”
11:41 a.m. — Comey says he regrets bailing on a date with his wife to have a dinner with Trump in which the president asked him to pledge his loyalty.
11:53 a.m. — Pressed by Sen. James Lankford, Comey says he did not appreciate being told by Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general, to refer to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email conduct as a “matter.” “That gave me a queasy feeling,” he said.
11:56 a.m. — Comey says that Russia will try to meddle in future American elections: “They’re coming after America.”
11:59 a.m. — Comey says he does not know whether he would have been fired had Clinton been elected president.
Noon — Asked directly by Sen. Joe Manchin, Comey says it’s up to special counsel Robert Mueller to decide whether Trump obstructed justice by asking him to drop the investigation into Flynn.
12:08 p.m. — Comey tells Sen. Tom Cotton the FBI is conducting a “criminal inquiry” focusing on whether Flynn deceived the agency.
12:11 p.m. — Comey tells Sen. Kamala Harris that he cannot answer in a public hearing whether Trump’s associates concealed contacts with Russians during the 2016 election.
12:22 p.m. — Sen. John Cornyn argues that if Trump had tried to obstruct justice, he did a poor job: “If you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is it a good idea to fire the FBI director?”
12:32 p.m. — Sen. John McCain kicks off his time by saying there’s “a whole lot of questions remaining” about Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
12:36 p.m. — McCain asks Comey about Trump’s comment, which Comey documented in his prepared written testimony, that he and the former director had “that thing,” a reference that confused Comey: “I’d like to know what the hell ‘that thing’ is.”
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