Friday 23 February 2018

Comey’s 'radar must have been set off' by Trump's call for loyalty - former CIA chief

Former FBI Director James Comey. Photo: REUTERS
Former FBI Director James Comey. Photo: REUTERS

Rebecca Lumley, Warren Strobel, Patricia Zengerle

A former CIA director has said that James Comey’s "radar would have been set off" when asked to be loyal to President Donald Trump, months before Mr Comey was unceremoniously fired as FBI Director.

John Brennan, who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency for 25 years and served as the agency's director from 2013 until 2017, said he would have been stunned if asked for loyalty by a president.

Speaking to Séan O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One, Mr Brennan said: "I was never asked to show or to give loyalty to the President. That’s something that I think would have certainly set off Jim Comey’s radar.

"I think if I was asked to show loyalty to a president, I don’t think I’d have been as stoic as Jim Comey. I think my facial expression would have demonstrated just how surprised and shocked I would have been."

When asked if he could have worked with President Trump, Mr Brennan said; "I was finished at noon on inauguration day."

Mr Comey is due to tell Congress today that President Trump pressed him repeatedly to halt a probe into his ex-national security advisor’s ties with Russia, as well as to declare publicly that President Trump was not himself under investigation.

His testimony comes as part of an ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Before his dismissal, Mr Comey was heading the campaign into the Trump team’s Russian links. He was fired under the guise of inappropriate handling of a months-old investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, which the President had praised at the time.

Mr Brennan recounted the CIA’s monitoring of Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential Election, saying that by the spring of that year it had “become apparent” that Russian efforts to influence the election’s result were “complex and far-reaching.”

He said a full-blown investigation had been mounted by that summer and said Russia’s main objectives seemed to be to undermine the democratic election process, “hurt” Hillary Clinton’s credibility and promote Mr Trump.

He said: “What we saw was a clear effort to denigrate Ms Clinton, but also put forward positive stories about Mr Trump.

“One thing that Americans hold very dear is their right to choose their elected officials and any attempt to exploit the election environment to promote their agenda is something I think all Americans should be outraged over.”

Mr Brennan said Russia had also attempted to interfere with European elections in recent years.

Speaking about the ongoing investigation, he said he hopes the Democrats and Republicans in Washington can set their party loyalties aside and  “get together, take the results of these investigations, look at them and act upon them in whatever way is best for the United States and not any particular party.”

Today’s testimony

Mr Comey's testimony in the most widely anticipated congressional hearing in years will put at center stage a high-stakes clash between two men with vastly different personas.

The outcome could have significant repercussions for Mr Trump's 139-day-old presidency as special counsel Robert Mueller and multiple congressional committees investigate whether Mr Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. The White House and Russia deny any collusion occurred.

In written testimony released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Mr Comey quoted Mr Trump as telling him the Russia investigation was a "cloud" impairing his ability to operate as president.

Comey said in his statement that in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office on Feb.14, Mr Trump asked him to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn that is part of a wider probe into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr Comey quoted Mr Trump as saying.

Mr Comey also said Mr Trump told him during a one-on-one dinner on Jan. 27 that he needed "loyalty."

Mr Trump fired the FBI chief on May 9, setting off a political firestorm, and he has since called Mr Comey a "showboat" and a "grandstander."

Despite the high drama, Mr Comey is not expected to drop any major new bombshells, or directly accuse Mr Trump of trying to obstruct justice by asking him to halt the FBI probe of Flynn.

He is also unlikely to reveal new details of the ongoing Russia investigation. U.S. law enforcement officials said Mr Comey had discussed his testimony with Mueller's investigative team to ensure it did not interfere with the special counsel's probe.

"The one thing you know he's not going to do, you know he's not going to reach a conclusion (on the legality of Trump's actions) and he's not going to talk about the underlying investigation," said Stephen Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and congressional investigator now at the McDermott, Will & Emery law firm.

Still, Ryan said the testimony, and senators' questions, would be historic. The closest comparison, he said, was the appearance 44 years ago of President Richard Nixon's White House counsel John Dean, who, after being fired by Nixon, gave damning testimony in 1973 to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Additional reporting from Reuters

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