Comey testimony: The five biggest things we learnt from his damning Senate hearing on Trump

The former FBI Director spoke about his conversations with the President and Russian interference in the US election

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The Independent US

Former FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding his conversations with Donald Trump and the bureau's investigation into the alleged ties between the Trump campaign team and Russia as well Russian interference in the 2016 US election. 

Here are the main takeaways from the roughly two hours of testimony which included questioning by Senators. 

“I take the president at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation”

Mr Comey, who found out he was sacked while watching television in the Los Angeles bureau of the agency, was confused at first as to why he was let go. 

Initial statements and comments from the White House suggested that a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rodney Rosenstein was what swayed the President. The memo stated that public distrust in the bureau had grown since Mr Comey's 28 October letter regarding an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private sever to send classified emails while she served as Secretary of State. 

Many in Washington believed that the letter had a profound impact on the election, which took place just a week after that. 

Then the President said on NBC's Nightly News programme that "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.'" 

"I was gonna fire regardless of recommendation" from the DOJ memo, Mr Trump noted. 

Per detailed memos based on their conversations, Mr Comey said he had been asked repeatedly by Mr Trump to stay on Director and finish his ten-year term which began in 2013. 

Mr Comey said he believed his termination was to relieve "pressure" the President was feeling about aides' ties to Russia. 

The day after Mr Comey was let go, Mr Trump hosted the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House. 

Comey testimony: Trump administration 'told lies and defamed me'

"I thought it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” Mr Comey said about having a friend leak his memos to the media 

Mr Trump's tweeting has stirred controversy several times. One of the most notable was in the wake of Mr Comey's firing. 

On 12 May the President tweeted that Mr Comey "better hope there are no 'tapes'" of the conversations between the two. It fed into the narrative comparing the Russia probe to President Nixon's Watergate scandal. 

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon’s administration tried to cover up their involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Tapes of Oval Office conversations had to be released as ruled by the Supreme Court at the time and eventually Mr Nixon resigned. 

Mr Comey testified that he woke up in the middle of the night after the President's tweet and decided he could not trust the White House to tell the truth about the conversations. 

He asked a "good friend" - later confirmed as Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman - to send the unclassified memos Mr Comey had written to a reporter.

The classified memos Mr Comey wrote on the conversations are property of the FBI now that Mr Comey is a private citizen and all of them have since been turned over to the Special Prosecutor team. 

Mr Comey took the President's "loyalty" request "as a direction" to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, but not the entire Russia probe 

“Did anyone ever ask you to stop the Russia investigation?” Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr asked. 

Mr Comey replied: "Not to my understanding, no.”

However, that was not how he felt about Mr Trump's comments on the investigation involving former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn allegeldy receiving illegal payments as a foreign agent of the Turkish government and his possible ties to Russian officials before Mr Trump took office. 

Mr Flynn was fired in February 2017 for supposedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence about a meeting he held with the Russian Ambassador to the US. 

Comey on his conversations with Trump: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes"

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr Trump said according to Mr Comey. 

Mr Comey testified: “I took it as a direction. It’s the President of the United States...saying this is what he is hoping I’m going to do,”  

Though he did not "obey it" that is how he interpreted the statement during a dinner when Mr Trump also sought the then-Director's loyalty. 

"I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct.”

Mr Comey testified that Mr Trump's behaviour in asking for "loyalty" was "concerning...and disturbing" but stopped short of making a legal determination on whether the President actually obstructed justice, which is an impeachable offence. 

"A really significant fact for me: why did he kick everyone out of the Oval talk to me?" Mr Comey testified.

The former FBI Director said his "common sense" said that it made him feel as if Mr Trump was "looking for something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job" of FBI Director. 

Mr Comey said that the determination of obstruction of justice should be left up to the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who was appointed as an independent counsel in the overall Russia investigation. 

Obstruction of justice is a tricky legal issue because it has to do with Mr Trump's actions rather than his intent or how Mr Trump's actions made Mr Comey feel.  As a lawyer himself, Mr Comey is aware of this and likely why he is leaving that determination up to Mr Mueller.  

Trump denies that he urged Comey to close Flynn investigation

Philip Allen Lacovara, who was counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, wrote in the Washington Post that Mr Comey’s "statement lays out a case against the president that consists of a tidy pattern, beginning with the demand for loyalty, the threat to terminate Comey’s job, the repeated requests to turn off the investigation into Flynn and the final infliction of career punishment for failing to succumb to the president’s requests, all followed by the president’s own concession about his motive."

However, Mr Lacovara said that whether Mr Trump would be indicted on such a crime as a sitting President is an "open question" up to Mr Mueller to answer.  

Mr Comey's testimony that he is "sure" Mr Mueller is determining the legality of Mr Trump's actions implied that the President under the purview of the Special Counsel's investigation. 

“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have,” ​confronted Mr Trump about his inappropriate request for loyalty, Mr Comey said

“I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in," said Mr Comey in response to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein's question about why he did not say something to the President when Mr Trump said he hoped the FBI would drop the Flynn investigation. 

Mr Comey said he regretted not speaking up in that circumstance, "but that’s how I conducted myself. I hope I’ll never have another opportunity." 

Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida and erstwhile 2016 Republican presidential candidate, also called Mr Comey's behaviour about not coming forward with the information earlier into question. Mr Comey responded again that he "was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind.”

Paul Ryan: "Obviously" its not appropriate for Trump to ask for Comey's loyalty

Mr Comey and other FBI senior staff had decided not to release the request for the Flynn investigation to be dropped in order not to put undue pressure on agents assigned to the case. 

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford asked what difference that made if the President had already tweeted about his displeasure with the FBI investigation into Mr Flynn. 

The former Director said there was a big difference between tweeting and private conversations during which the President was pressuring him. 

Senator John Cornyn said Mr Trump's request for Mr Comey to "lift the cloud" around the President and tell the public that the President himself was not under investigation was a reasonable one given the situation. 

Senator Roy Blunt stressed that Mr Comey was the one who told the President on many occasions that Mr Trump was not a person of interest in the Russia probe and questioned Mr Comey's motivations for writing the memos about the pair's conversations.