On Thursday, former FBI director James Comey will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. All of the big three broadcast networks will be carrying his testimony live — an extremely unusual move for a congressional hearing.
But this isn’t just any ordinary congressional hearing.
It’s now been a month since President Donald Trump shocked the political world by abruptly firing Comey. In the past few weeks, a plethora of stories have emerged about why Trump made that decision, and so far, all signs point toward one thing: Trump was not happy with Comey’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged coordination with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Comey will be asked on Thursday to give the account in his own words, and his account could be disastrous for the president. His opening statements, released on Wednesday, provide a detailed description of his encounters with Trump spanning from January 6 to April 11. Comey notes that he had nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months — three in person and six on the phone — during which Trump pressured him to assure the public Trump wasn’t under investigation and to drop the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Australian media on Wednesday when asked about the Russian scandal.
Here’s everything you need to know to get prepared for Thursday’s hearing.
January 6: Comey and Trump meet for the first time
In Comey’s opening statements, he recalls meeting then-President-Elect Trump at Trump Tower in New York along with other intelligence officials to brief Trump on an intelligence community assessment concerning Russian efforts to interfere with the U.S. election.
Comey presented the salacious parts of the assessment one-on-one with Trump at the request of the Director of National Intelligence in part to “minimize potential embarrassment to the President-Elect.” (The assessment in question was published by BuzzFeed days later.)
During that meeting, Comey told Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally.
Comey said he felt the need to document the encounter the moment it ended.
“Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past,” Comey said.
January 27: Trump asked Comey for his loyalty, and Comey refused
The first inkling of the strange relationship between the Trump and Comey came in a New York Times report on May 11, which detailed a dinner conversation between Comey and Trump shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Trump, reportedly, asked Comey multiple times if he would pledge “loyalty” to the him — a promise that Comey refused to make, instead telling the president that he would always be “honest” with him.
The report came from accounts from two anonymous sources with the FBI, whom Comey had related the conversation to shortly after it occurred.
The White House disputes the account. According to the White House, Comey asked for the meeting. According to multiple FBI sources speaking to multiple outlets, the White House asked Comey for the meeting.
Comey was reportedly unsure about attending the dinner due to concerns about how it would look, given his role in the Bureau and its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign. Another source close to Comey told CNN that he was “taken aback” by the president’s request for loyalty.
In his opening statements, Comey said that he accepted the dinner invitation from Trump under the assumption that others would be present.
“Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things 4 about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others,” Comey said. “He then said, ‘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.’
February 14: Trump asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation
On the day after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned, Comey was in the office with other intelligence officials for a scheduled counter-terrorism briefing for Trump. At the end of that meeting, Trump requested to speak with Comey alone.
There, according to a New York Times report on May 16, Trump asked Comey to shut down the investigation into Flynn.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to a memo that Comey wrote write after the meeting.
Comey detailed this encounter in his opening statements, adding that he “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.”
February 15: Comey asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump
The day after Trump asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Comey met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss classified leaks within the administration. At that point, he asked Sessions to help him avoid one-on-one time with the president.
“I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me,” Comey writes in his prepared remarks. “I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.”
March 30: Trump calls Comey, refers to Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’
According to Comey, Trump called him on March 30 and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation.
“He 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,” Comey writes.
During the conversation, which included a discussion of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Trump also told Comey that he wanted to get the word out that he was not personally under investigation.
April 11: Trump asks Comey why he didn’t “get out” the information that Trump wasn’t under investigation
Trump called Comey the morning of April 11 and once again complained about how the Russia investigation was impairing his ability to do his job, according to Comey’s opening statements.
Then Trump asked Comey “what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation.” Comey suggested that he should have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General.
“He said he would do that and added, ‘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,’” Comey said.
According to Comey, this represent the last time the two spoke.
May 9: Trump fires Comey
On May 9th, Trump suddenly and unceremoniously fired Comey — who, as FBI director, was the man in charge of the bureau’s investigation into whether the representatives of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In the letter to Comey announcing the firing, Trump pinned the decision on Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, as he himself may fall under its scope — and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had, at the White House’s request, penned a scathing indictment of Comey’s conduct during his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.
Before his decision to fire Comey, however, Trump had lauded Comey’s investigation into Clinton’s emails. He led campaign rallies by chanting “lock her up.” Immediately, questions arose whether his real reason for firing Comey had more to do with the Russia investigation — which, if it were the case, would likely be considered obstruction of justice.
Comey’s firing immediately set off a firestorm in Washington, a reaction that appeared to take the Trump White House by surprise — Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly urged Trump to fire Comey, assuring him that it wouldn’t be a big deal.
May 10: The Trump camp tries to spin the decision to fire Comey
Trump began the next day by firing off a series of tweets complaining that the Democrats had criticized Comey over his treatment of Hillary Clinton, and therefore shouldn’t be reacting badly to his firing.
The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
Meanwhile, White House surrogates went into full spin mode.
“This is about ‘restoring confidence and dignity to the FBI’ — morale is low,” White House Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway told Anderson Cooper, arguing that the firing had “zero” to do with Russia. Comey was reportedly beloved within the FBI, and his firing sent off shockwaves of dismay.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the decision rested almost entirely with the Deputy AG, and that Trump was merely acting on his determination. Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Capitol Hill, when asked about the Russia investigation, that “that’s not what [Comey’s firing] is about.”
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) May 10, 2017
Then, the White House issued a timeline of events accounting for the time leading up to the decision — and added that the president was “strongly inclined to remove” Comey after watching his testimony before Congress on the Russia investigation.
That timeline belied their earlier claims that Russia had nothing to do with the decision.
May 10: Trump privately bragged to Russia that firing Comey took the pressure off
While the Trump team was busy trying to spin this news, Trump was telling a different story privately.
On May 19th, the New York Times reported that in a May 10th conversation with Russian officials, Trump bragged to them about firing Comey and said that the firing had relieved the pressure he was under due to the Russia investigation.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said according to a document summarizing the meeting, which an American official read to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” He added: “I’m not under investigation.”
One official read the account to the Times, and another confirmed it. Spicer did not dispute the president’s comments.
The comments aren’t that different from what Trump has said publicly. What is extraordinary, however, is that Trump disparaged a former FBI director to an oft-adversarial foreign power — while that FBI director had had a key hand in investigating how that foreign power worked to undermine the United States’ democracy.
One White House official said that the comments were part of a negotiating tactic on Trump’s part.
May 11: Trump publicly says he fired Comey because of Russia
In a televised interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump flat-out said that he intended to fire Comey regardless of anyone’s recommendation, and that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he decided to act.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump said, describing the moment he decided to fire the FBI director. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
May 12: Trump tweets about ‘tapes’ of conversations with Comey
As the fall-out from the firing continued, Trump tweeted that there might be “tapes” of his conversations with Comey. He has offered no evidence of any tapes.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
After a congressional request that the White House turn over any such “tapes” should they exist, Spicer told reporters that the president had “nothing further to add.”
May 16: Chaffetz asks FBI for all Comey memos about Trump
On May 16, the New York Times reported on the existence of Comey’s memo that detailed Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation. The Times indicated that Comey had meticulously recorded his meetings with Trump.
Immediately after the Times’ report, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz sent a letter to the acting director of the FBI requesting “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President.”
Chaffetz set a deadline of May 24th for the documents to be turned over to Congress.
May 17: Robert Mueller is appointed special counsel for Russia investigation
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
May 26: FBI declines to provide materials to House Oversight
The FBI did not meet Chaffetz’s deadline, and cited the hiring of Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the reason for the delay.
Chaffetz extended the deadline to June 8, the day of Comey’s hearing.
June 7: Comey’s opening statements surface, while Trump and his supporters prepare to attack
One day before Comey is set to appear before the Senate committee, his blistering opening statements became public.
In response, Republican lawmakers quickly went on the defensive. A pro-Trump attack ad surfaced calling Comey a “showboat” who put “politics over protecting America.” The ad was made by the Great America Alliance, which is chaired by Trump supporters Newt Gingrich and Rudolph Giuliani. It will air during Comey’s hearing.
According to White House officials, Trump plans to tweet during the Comey testimony — a fact that reportedly alarms many of his top aides, who are trying to keep him busy.
Meanwhile, bars in D.C. are preparing to open early on Thursday morning for the hearing.