Five key things said during James Comey’s testimony

Former FBI Director James B. Comey testified about his interactions with President Trump before the Senate Intelligence Committee June 8. Here are key moments. (The Washington Post)

Former FBI director James B. Comey spent nearly two and a half hours answering questions from senators Thursday about his interactions with President Trump, why he was fired last month and his efforts to spur the appointment of a special counsel.

Here are five highlights:

1. Comey said he was fired because of the Russia probe

When asked why Trump suddenly fired him last month, Comey said that he has one idea.

“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

During an earlier round of questioning, Comey acknowledged that he did not know for sure but pointed out that he was taking Trump “at his word.”

After Comey was fired, Trump’s White House claimed the dismissal was due to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, based on the recommendation of top Justice Department officials and needed because the FBI was in disarray. But in an interview with NBC News that week, Trump threw those reasons aside, saying he had the Russia probe in his mind when firing Comey.

2. Comey took notes because he thought Trump might lie

Comey had served for more than three years as FBI director under President Barack Obama. During that time, he and Obama privately talked twice, but Comey never took notes on those interactions.

However, during his brief time leading the FBI during the Trump administration, Comey said he had nine interactions with Trump and began taking detailed notes after their first meeting in January.

Comey said his reason was simple: He was worried Trump would lie about their meetings.

“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said.

After Comey’s public testimony before Congress, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders rebutted that charge.

“No, I can definitely say the president is not a liar,” Sanders said. “I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”

President Trump and James B. Comey. (Evan Vucci, left, and Susan Walsh, right/AP)

3. Comey says he was ‘defamed’  by Trump and White House

At the opening of the hearing, Comey immediately pushed back against statements by the White House and President Trump suggesting that the he was fired because of poor morale or turmoil at the FBI.

Comey said he was “increasingly concerned” about the shifting explanations the White House offered for his firing, but in particular he lashed out at suggestions of the FBI being in a state of chaos.

“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.’”

During his NBC News interview not long after firing Comey, Trump said that “the FBI has been in turmoil.”

“You know that. I know that,” Trump said. “Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

White House officials echoed that statement, with Sanders, the deputy press secretary, claiming after Comey’s firing that the rank and file FBI had lost faith in him. Her comment contradicted Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, who earlier that day said Comey had “broad support” inside the bureau. Sanders said “countless members of the FBI” had contacted her to express their support, a claim greeted with skepticism and one that remains unsubstantiated.

Comey said he was sorry for what the American people were told about the FBI. He also spoke with admiration of the bureau’s workforce, saying that its efforts would continue.

4. Comey says he helped leak accounts of his talks with Trump to get a special counsel appointed

After Comey was fired, news articles began to appear with details of his discussions with Trump, and in some cases the stories cited notes the former FBI director kept of those interactions.

On Thursday, Comey admitted he helped arrange at least one of these reports, alluding to a New York Times story published on May 16 discussing Comey’s recollection that Trump asked him to abandon the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Comey said, in response to questioning, that he was prompted to leak the memo after Trump tweeted on May 12 a suggestion that recordings may exist of their meetings. According to Comey, he “woke up in the middle of the night” because of the tweet and then asked a friend of his — Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor and Columbia Law School professor who declined to comment Thursday — to share the details of the memo with a reporter.

“As a private citizen, I felt free to share that,” Comey said. “I thought it was very important to get it out.”

In an extraordinary admission, Comey said his decision to release the memo was aimed at getting a special prosecutor appointed. He opted to share it that way, Comey said, rather than give it to a reporter himself because “the media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point.”

“I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide,” he said. “I was worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.”

The remarks may have had their intended effect in the appointment of a special counsel. Comey said he has since provided his memos to Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director appointed as special counsel not long after Comey was fired.

5. Comey said the FBI knew Jeff Sessions would recuse himself — but won’t say why

In a cryptic note, Comey mentioned in his prepared statement and his testimony Thursday that the FBI expected Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia-related investigation. This turned out to be correct, as Sessions would later do just that, but Comey would not specifically say why he thought the attorney general would recuse himself.

The now-fired FBI director wrote that he decided not to tell Sessions about Trump’s request that he hoped he would let go of the Flynn investigation, because he and the bureau leadership felt “it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.”

When asked about this Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Comey suggested that there were reasons Sessions could not remain involved in the probe but that those reasons involved classified information.

Comey said that the FBI felt Sessions would recuse himself “for a variety of reasons.” He also said the bureau was “aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.” Comey did not elaborate further on these “facts.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) refused to join his Republican colleagues in dismissing the notion that there was anything in James B. Comey’s public testimony before the Intelligence Committee this morning suggesting President Trump tried to obstruct justice.

“I’m not prepared to reach a conclusion on that, because we’re not done with all the other pieces that are missing,” Rubio told reporters after the Comey hearing.

He noted that the committee still had to hear from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers about whether the president tried to influence them to get Comey to drop the FBI’s probe as well.

“I don’t think anybody would leave this hearing and say to you that what the president said in the Oval Office on the 14th of February was appropriate,” Rubio said.

But he would not opine on “whether it rises to criminality,” though he noted others have “significant doubts” about that.

Rubio repeatedly wondered aloud why no one in the White House “advised the president about what’s appropriate and what isn’t when you’re interacting with the FBI.”

“I’m not saying he would have listened to it,” Rubio added.

But the Florida Republican, who often clashed with Trump when both were seeking the GOP presidential nod, said it was important to understand what Trump’s advisers were and were not doing. He said it has to be understood whether people are dealing with “a concerned, orchestrated effort to impede justice, or is this an unconventional non-politician who, because he has not worked in government before, either doesn’t understand or, quite frankly, is not interested in convention?”

Rubio had dinner with Trump on Wednesday night. He was asked whether the president brought up the investigation or tried to ask him about his role investigating allegations about the Trump administration as a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“No,” Rubio said. “And if he would have, we would have gotten up and walked out.”

The White House has declined to answer most questions about former FBI director James Comey’s testimony, except this one: Is the president a liar?

The question was prompted after Comey said Thursday during his testimony that he feared the president “might lie” about the nature of his conversations with Trump. Comey added that the White House’s explanations for why he was fired were “lies, plain and simple.”

White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t hesitate to rebut Comey when asked by a reporter during a briefing on Thursday.

“No, I can definitely say the president is not a liar,” Sanders said. “I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”

During an address to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, June 8, President Trump said he will keep his campaign pledges. “We are going to fight and win,” he said. (The Washington Post)

President Trump didn’t tweet during James B. Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he didn’t offer a direct rebuttal during a 39-minute speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference Thursday. But he did make what might have been an oblique reference to the former FBI director’s testimony.

Speaking at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, just as Comey was wrapping up his public hearing, Trump recited Isaiah 1:17, which states: “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

Then the president added in his own words: “The entrenched interests and failed bitter voices in Washington will do everything in their power to try and stop us from this righteous cause, to try to stop all of you. They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right.”

“Because as the Bible tells us, we know the truth will prevail,” he added. “Nothing worth doing ever came easy. . . . We know how to fight better than anybody, and we never give up. We are winners, and we are going to fight.”

Trump received hearty applause throughout his speech, during which he touted progress on curbing illegal immigration and his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, was prepared to make a statement at the National Press Club on Thursday afternoon.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) speaks to journalists in May on Capitol Hill. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.), who presided over the hearing as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, briefly addressed reporters after Comey’s public testimony.

He thanked Comey for appearing before the committee and answering questions and said Comey’s testimony helped to clarify factual issues that have mainly been aired to the public through news reports that, in many cases, were anonymously sourced.

Burr emphasized that the panel — which was already probing suspected Russian interference in the election and any Trump aides’ ties to Kremlin officials — would continue to gather evidence. “This is nowhere near the end of the investigation,” he said.

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