Friday 22 September 2017

'Lordy I hope there are tapes', ex-FBI director Comey says as he testifies on Russia and Trump

Pundits have dubbed today's hearing the 'Washington Super Bowl'

Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Former FBI Director James Comey has presented evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee about conversations he had with President Donald Trump and whether the former businessman pressured him to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The committee on Wednesday released his prepared opening statement in which he confirmed under oath that Mr Trump tried to get him to drop the probe into whether General Flynn, who was forced to resign two weeks after the inauguration, had met with Russian officials during the campaign to discuss economic sanctions imposed by Barack Obama.

The statement also includes information about a pair of phone calls with Mr Trump where he had reportedly complained to him about the FBI's investigation into his campaign team's links with Russia, calling it a "cloud" looming over the presidency and reportedly urged Mr Comey to state publicly that the President himself was not under investigation.

The hearing, dubbed the Washington Super Bowl, and pundits are predicting it could be the "most explosive in a generation".

President Trump was expected to live Tweet his responses according to the Washington Post, but he has not yet taken to social media.

A source close to him did say that he disputed some of the facts presented by Mr Comey during the hearing, which ran for more than two hours.

Opening statements:

Chairman of the Committee, Republican Richard Burr said he is looking forward to a candid discussion and reminded senators that they would meet with Mr Comey in a closed session at 1pm.

US President Donald Trump (L) fired FBI Director James Comey
US President Donald Trump (L) fired FBI Director James Comey

Vice Chairman Mark Warner told the committee that the hearing is not about who won or lost the election or Republican v Democrat.

"We must find out what the Russians did," he said.

Reasons for his firing:

Speaking to the committee Mr Comey said he was confused to hear Trump say on TV that he was fired over Russia investigation.

He said he was confused when the White House said he was fired because the FBI was not performing properly.

“Those were lies, plain and simple," he said.

Questions from senators:

He said he wanted the American people to know that "the FBI is honest, the FBI is strong and the FBI is and always will be independent".

He said he is confident that he no votes cast in 2016 election were altered.

Addressing his colleagues he said:

“It was the honour of my life to serve beside you... I will miss it for the rest of my life”.

When asked why he felt the need to keep memos documenting his private interactions with Trump he said he knew there might come a day when he would need a record to defend himself.

He said he created a memo on a January meeting with Donald Trump because "I was honestly concerned that he might lie".

Source close to Trump says President disputes element of Comey's testimony:

A source close to the White House has revealed that Trump disputes two points in Comey's testimony.

Comey testified that Trump asked him to let go of the probe into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and also said that Trump asked for his loyalty. Trump disputes those points, the source told Reuters.

Comey takes questions on conversation about Michael Flynn:

He says he took Trump's words as a "direction" and inferred that he wanted him to drop the Flynn probe.

It was a direction he did not follow he tells members.

He goes on to say he takes Trump at his word that he was fired because of the Russia investigation.

He said he was stunned by the conversation in the Oval office.

A committee member asked why Mr Comey did not say ‘this is wrong’ after Mr Trump said “I hope you can let this go”.

“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in,” Mr Comey said.

Tapes:

Comey said "Lordy, I hope there are tapes" of his conversations with the president.

Later he encouraged Trump to release any tapes he has saying "I'm good with it".

Russian interference:

Comey says the fact that Russia interfered in the election is "about as unfake as you can get".

He said the Russian interference was sophisticated and directed from a high level and he is glad to see a non-partisan focus on the issue.

On private White House dinner:

Under further questioning Mr Comey discussed how he was due to spend time with his wife on a night in January when Mr Trump invited him to a private dinner in the White House.

He raised a laugh from those present when he said he wished he had spent the night with his wife.

"In retrospect I love spending time with my wife... I wish I'd been [with her] that night, " he said.

Media coverage:

Comey has said there have been "many, many" news stories about the Russia probe that are just "dead wrong".

White House responds:

When asked about Comey's testimony that he was concerned Trump would lie a spokesperson said the president is not a liar.

The White House has said Trump is "pleased" that Comey has confirmed he is not under investigation in any Russian probe.

Ongoing investigation:

Comey tells the committee he believes he was fired to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.

Closing remarks:

Chairman Burr thanks Comey for his work in the FBI and a ss prosecutor.

He thanks Comey for telling it like it is.

"We are grateful to you for the professionalism you have shown," he said.

Mark Warner said there are still unanswered questions.

"We will get to the bottom of this," he said.

The public session of the hearing has now closed.

Here is everything you need to know:

Why was Comey fired?

Just to recap, Comey was fired whilst he was overseeing the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The White House initially said Trump was acting on the recommendation of Justice Department leaders. However, Trump gave a slightly different explanation when he said in an NBC News interview that he had already decided to dismiss Comey and was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did so.

What is in Comey’s testimony?

In his comments, Comey says that he can recall having nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months – all of which he recorded in memos afterwards because of their content. In the testimony, he recounts what went down in each conversation – some of which were in person, and some on the phone.

One particular conversation about loyalty sticks out. The president allegedly said: “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Comey says that he later repeated: “‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me’.”

In the testimony, Comey emphasises the fact that the FBI is not involved in politics, something he was worried Trump was trying to encourage. He was apparently so concerned about this that at one point he asked the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prevent future direct communication between Trump and himself.

Comey reveals that the president seemed to be asking him to stop investigating his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn: “I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.”

In their last conversation, Comey recounts that Trump said: “‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know’. I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing’.”

What are the legal implications of these comments?

Legal experts say conversations attributed by Comey to Trump were clumsy and inappropriate at best. In the worst light, these recollections could provide enough evidence to build a case that the president tried to interfere with a criminal investigation.

However, Trump’s personal lawyer said the president was cheered by the testimony.

“The president is pleased that Mr Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe,” attorney Mark Kasowitz said in a statement. “The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”

What happens next?

Comey is due to give this testimony today, and it is likely that Republicans will press him on why he did not raise his concerns about Trump publicly or resign. Some may attempt to divert attention from Comey’s remarks about Trump by focusing on two issues they’ve repeatedly seized on: leaks and revealing the names of Americans in intelligence reports.

Comey is unlikely to say anything that could interfere with or undercut the ongoing federal investigation into Russia ties.

Trump has derisively characterised Comey as a “showboat”. Whilst this is hardly a label with which Comey’s supporters would agree, American media have been among those labelling the ex-FBI chief as showing a flair for drama during his career.

As such, Washington DC is hugely excited for the congressional hearing – so much so that The Washingtonian reports that at least three bars in the city will open early for Comey’s testimony. One Irish pub will even be serving a special “covfefe” cocktail, whatever that entails.

 

Additional reporting by agencies and the UK Independent.

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