'Be very careful': Comey couldn't have been more nervous when he was the first person to raise the Steele dossier with Trump

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty ImagesOusted FBI director James Comey is sworn in during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
  • Donald Trump first learned about the allegations contained in the Steele dossier from then-FBI Director James Comey on January 6, 2017.
  • He told Trump about the document after an intelligence briefing about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election at the Trump Tower.
  • Comey described the experience as “really weird” and said Trump became immediately defensive.
  • A day earlier, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security told Comey to “be very careful,” “choose your words carefully,” and then “get outta there”.

A nervous and worried James Comey was the first person to tell then-President-elect Donald Trump about the allegations outlined in the Steele dossier, weeks before his inauguration.

On January 6 2017, Comey and then-director of national intelligence James Clapper met with Trump and his transition team at the Trump Tower to inform them of the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. It was after this conference room meeting that Comey asked to speak with Trump alone, he said in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday.

“I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during the visit for the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had filmed the episode,” said Comey. “I did not go into the business about people peeing on each other, I just thought it was a weird enough experience for me to be talking to the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow.”

“And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about it, you know, ‘Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?'”

Comey said he didn’t respond and instead explained that the FBI hadn’t validated the allegations, but thought it was important for the president-elect to know. Trump, however, was not done discussing it.

“He was very defensive and started – for reasons that I don’t understand – going into the list of people who had accused him of touching them improperly, sexual assault and how he hadn’t done this, he hadn’t done that, he hadn’t done that,” said Comey, who felt he then had to reassure Trump he wasn’t being investigated over the allegations and ensure Trump didn’t think the FBI was “out to get him.”

This was the first meeting between the president-elect and Comey, who still describes the meeting as “really weird.”

“I don’t know whether it was weird for President-elect Trump, but it was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I was floating above myself, looking down, saying, “You’re sitting here, briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow,” he said.

Comey was warned about Trump before meeting him

The day before Comey met with Trump, he received a phone call from Jeh Johnson, a longtime friend and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who was worried the FBI director would be briefing the president-elect alone.

“I said, ‘Me too.’ And he said, ‘Have you ever met Donald Trump?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Be careful, Jim, be very careful,'” he said.

“I took it as, ‘Just choose your words carefully. Don’t say more than you need to, less than you need to, try to get it just right, accomplish your goal, and then get outta there,” Comey said.

Earlier in the day, Comey and Clapper had briefed President Barack Obama and senior members of his team on Russia’s actions, as well as the “additional material” of the Steele dossier.

When Obama was told that it was Comey who would brief Trump on the material, Comey said the president gave him a double eyebrow raise.

“He didn’t say a word. President Obama has a great poker face. But he simply turned slightly to his left, looked at me, and … kind of gave me a – Groucho Marx is how I thought of it – double eyebrow raise,” said Comey.

“[That] communicated to me at least, and I could be misreading it because I don’t know President Obama’s eyebrow raises, that sort of sympathy and concern. Like, ‘Good luck with that.'”

“I could be misreading it. But I read it as, ‘You poor bastard,'” Comey said.

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