On the eve of former FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee released Comey’s prepared opening statement. And it’s unlikely that the White House will be happy with what he has to say.
In his statement, Comey presents Donald Trump as obsessed with obtaining Comey’s “loyalty” and equally obsessed with getting Comey to prevent the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian ties from placing “a cloud” over Trump himself.
Trump, and the White House generally, is likely to dwell on a line in Comey’s testimony where the former FBI director admits that, as of a January 6 meeting, “we were not investigating him personally.” Practically everything else in the seven pages of testimony, however, paints Trump in a much more negative light.
Trump demanded “loyalty” from Comey
About a week after taking office, Trump invited Comey to a one-on-one dinner meeting at the White House, according to Comey. During that meeting, Trump asked Comey directly if he wanted to keep his job as FBI director. As Comey writes, “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.”
After Comey told Trump that he did, in fact, wish to stay on at the FBI, the real estate developer told the longtime prosecutor what he expected from his FBI director. “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Comey quotes Trump as saying.
Trump pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation
On February 14, the day after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned his position in the Trump White House, Comey met with Trump in an Oval Office meeting attended by several other senior officials. At the conclusion of this meeting, Comey says Trump asked him to remain behind so that the two men could speak alone.
Trump opened that private conversation by telling Comey that “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” According to Comey, “the President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President.”
Flynn, Trump told Comey, is “a good guy and has been through a lot.” Trump then told the FBI director that “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.”
Comey says 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.”
Trump urged Comey to let the public know Trump wasn’t under investigation
Comey says that, on multiple occasions, Trump asked him to somehow make it public knowledge that Trump is not personally under investigation. In a March 30 phone call with Comey, Trump “described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”
Trump then claimed that “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.” Then Trump asked the FBI director “what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’”
On April 11, “the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation,” Comey writes. Comey urged Trump to have the White House Counsel “contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.”
Later in this April 11 call, Trump also made a cryptic reference to loyalty. “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know,” Trump told Comey, according to his prepared remarks. Comey suggests that he is not sure what Trump meant by “that thing.”
Comey did not want to be alone with Trump
After the February 14 meeting in which Trump pressured Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he did not want to be left alone again with Trump.
“I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. 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,” Comey writes.
Comey had far more one-on-one contact with Trump than with Obama
In the short period that Comey served under Trump, he had far more private contact with Trump than he did with President Obama. “I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) — once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016,” Comey writes.
By contrast, Comey recalled “nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months — three in person and six on the phone.”