Saturday 16 December 2017

'Liar Trump fired me to thwart probe' - Comey

Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Reuters
Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Reuters

Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell in Washington

Former FBI director James Comey yesterday accused US President Donald Trump of telling "lies, plain and simple", and of firing him to try to undermine the bureau's investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign team and Russia.

In the most eagerly anticipated US congressional hearing in years, Mr Comey told lawmakers the Trump administration had lied and defamed him and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the president dismissed him on May 9.

During more than two hours of testimony, Mr Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee he believed Mr Trump had directed him in February to drop an FBI probe into the Republican president's former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of the broader Russia investigation.

Mr Comey would not say whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice, but added it would be up to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now investigating the Russia allegations, "to sort that out".

Donald Trump salutes as he speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington yesterday. Photo: AP
Donald Trump salutes as he speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington yesterday. Photo: AP

"I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning," Mr Comey testified.

Read More: Drama hits Shakespearean levels as Comey takes stage

Sitting alone at a small table facing a bank of senators who fired question after question, Mr Comey gave short, deliberative answers. He painted a picture of an overbearing president who he did not trust and who pressured him to stop the FBI Flynn probe.

Mr Trump critics say any efforts by the president to hinder an FBI probe could amount to obstruction of justice. Such an offense potentially could lead to Mr Trump being impeached by Congress, although his fellow Republicans who control the Senate and House of Representatives have shown little appetite for such a move.

Mr Comey did not make major new revelations about any links between Mr Trump or his associates and Russia, an issue that has dogged the president's first months in office and distracted from his policy goals such as overhauling the US healthcare system and making tax cuts.

Nevertheless, the Russia matter likely will continue to overshadow Mr Trump's presidency, especially as the FBI probe has already ensnared not only Mr Flynn but also Mr Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from the investigation.

After Mr Trump fired Mr Comey, the administration gave differing reasons for his dismissal. Mr Trump later contradicted his own staff and acknowledged on May 11 he fired Mr Comey because of the Russia matter.

Asked why he thought Mr Trump fired him, Mr Comey said he did not know for sure.

He added: "Again, I take the president's words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that."

Mr Comey repeatedly said there were details he could not discuss in a public session, making clear he had sensitive information he could disclose only in a closed session with the senators.

Mr Comey said Mr Trump's administration had defamed him in comments made after his firing by saying that the FBI was in disarray and that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.

"Those were lies, plain and simple," Mr Comey said.

His accusations could further mire Mr Trump's administration in legal difficulties. Mr Mueller and several congressional committees are investigating what US intelligence agencies have concluded was an effort by Russia to help Mr Trump win the election by discrediting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton through the hacking and disclosure of damaging emails and other steps.

Russia has denied such interference. The White House has denied any collusion with Moscow.

Mr Comey said he felt he needed to get his account of his conversations with Mr Trump in the public sphere in the hope it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel, which later occurred. Mr Comey said he gave copies of his memo memorialising his talks with Mr Trump to people outside the Justice Department and "asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter".

Mr Comey said he shared the memo with a professor at Columbia Law School, a reference to Daniel Richman.

Mr Comey said he did not know if there are tapes of his conversations with Mr Trump but said if so they should be made public. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Mr Comey said.

Republicans on the committee questioned Mr Comey intently but did not attack his integrity or try to treat him roughly, as a witness making accusations against a sitting Republican president might expect.

Mr Comey testified he kept notes after meeting with Mr Trump because, "I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document."

US stocks closed slightly higher as the market reacted little to Mr Comey's testimony, viewing his testimony alone as unlikely to mark the end of Mr Trump's presidency.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio asked Mr Comey whether he perceived the president's request to let the Flynn matter go as an order given Mr Trump's position as president, the setting and the circumstances surrounding the conversation.

"Yes," Comey replied.

Irish Independent

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