Former FBI Director James Comey, in an opening statement before his highly anticipated testimony on Thursday, said the President Donald Trump demanded “loyalty” from him, and asked him to “let go” of the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In his statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey said that he had nine encounters with Trump, most of which he took notes of and detailed the conversations that they had.
“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away. My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship”, Comey said.
“I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President. A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner”, Comey said in the opening statement.
On February 14, after a meeting at the Oval Office, Trump cleared the room after a counterterrorism meeting to speak with Comey alone, according to the testimony. Trump then asked Comey to “let go” of any investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned the previous day for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador.
“The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “he is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. 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.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go””, Comey wrote.
Comey also revealed one previously unreported incident that took place on the morning of March 30, just 10 days after Comey publicly confirmed the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump called Comey at the FBI, and while describing the Russia investigation as “a cloud,” he asked the director what could be done to “lift the cloud.”
“I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him”, Comey added.
On Thursday Comey will also testify that the President told him that he was considering to order the then-director to investigate allegations contained in an unverified dossier, believed to be drawn to some extent from unverified and likely false information circulated by Russian intelligence.
While the White House has given various explanations for why Trump fired Comey last month, the President himself pointed to the FBI investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian leaders, as one of the reasons.