Sunday 19 January 2020

Sacked FBI chief asked not to be left alone with Trump

Former FBI Chief James Comey says President Donald Trump sought his ‘loyalty’. Photo: Getty Images
Former FBI Chief James Comey says President Donald Trump sought his ‘loyalty’. Photo: Getty Images

Eric Tucker in New York

Former FBI director James Comey asked the attorney general to ensure he was never again left alone with the US president after Donald Trump sought his "loyalty" and asked what could be done to "lift the cloud" of investigation shadowing his White House.

According to a written testimony released ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill today, Mr Comey will also tell lawmakers that he informed Mr Trump that he was not personally under investigation - validating the president's previous claims that he was not the target of the probe into his campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Mr Comey will say the FBI and Justice Department were reluctant to state that publicly "because it would create a duty to correct, should that change".

Mr Comey's testimony will be his first public comments since Mr Trump abruptly fired him on May 9. The seven pages of testimony reveal in dramatic detail Mr Comey's uneasiness with Mr Trump, whom he believed was disregarding the FBI's traditional independence from the White House.

Until his firing, Mr Comey oversaw the federal investigation into possible collusion between Mr Trump's associates and Russia. Mr Trump's abrupt firing of Mr Comey outraged Democrats, who believe he was improperly trying to halt a probe that has hung over his presidency since he took office.

The former director's testimony is based on written memos of his interactions with Mr Trump, some of which he says he shared with senior FBI leadership. Mr Comey describes at length a February 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which he believed Mr Trump asked him to drop any investigation of fired national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia's ambassador to the US.

"He then said, 'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,'" Mr Comey says, according to the prepared remarks. "I replied only that 'he is a good guy'."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unsure if the president had reviewed Mr Comey's testimony. Asked whether the president stood by earlier assertions that he had neither sought Mr Comey's loyalty nor asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, she said: "I can't imagine the president not standing by his own statement."

Earlier yesterday, Mr Trump announced that he planned to nominate Christopher Wray, a former Justice Department official, as Mr Comey's successor. FBI directors are nominated for 10-year terms.

Mr Comey's testimony was released by the Senate intelligence committee hours after lawmakers sparred with top intelligence chiefs who refused to answer the panel's questions about conversations they had with Mr Trump regarding the Russia probe. Intelligence committee members wanted to know about news reports claiming Mr Trump had asked director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump allies have sought to undermine Mr Comey's credibility ahead of his testimony, noting that the FBI had to correct some of his remarks from his last appearance on Capitol Hill. They've also questioned why Mr Comey did not raise his concerns about Mr Trump publicly or resign.

Among the encounters Mr Comey describes is a January 27 dinner at the White House that he viewed as an attempt by the president to "create some sort of patronage relationship".

According to Mr Comey, Mr Trump asked if he wanted to remain as FBI director and declared: "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Mr Comey says he replied he could offer his honesty, and that when Mr Trump said he wanted "honest loyalty," Mr Comey paused and said, "You will get that from me."

In March, after Mr Comey had publicly revealed the existence of a federal counter-intelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Mr Trump complained the probe had left a "cloud" that was "impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country."

It was during that conversation that Mr Comey said the president asked him what could be done to "lift the cloud" of investigation that was damaging his administration. Mr Comey said Mr Trump also said "he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia" - referencing an unverified intelligence dossier detailing compromising information Moscow allegedly had collected on the president.

Irish Independent

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