James Comey has delivered a damning blow against Donald Trump – claiming he was directed to drop an investigation into the President’s former national security adviser and was then fired to impede his probe into alleged collusion with Russia.
In a rare assault on the integrity of a sitting president by someone who was until very recently a high-ranking investigative official, Mr Comey testified on Capitol Hill that he believed he was got rid of because he was overseeing the federal inquiry.
“It’s my judgement that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Mr Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee, during more than two hours of frequently gripping testimony.
“I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavour was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me.”
The appearance of the 56-year-old former lawyer was keenly anticipated in Washington, even if some of the impact of Mr Comey’s words may be been softened by his decision to release seven pages of written testimony the previous day.
In his first public testimony since being fired by Mr Trump last month, Mr Comey said the President had not ordered him directly to halt his investigation of Mr Flynn, who resigned after lying about his meeting with Russian officials. Yet he said he took Mr Trump’s expressed wish “as a direction”. “I took it as a direction. It’s the President of the United States and me alone, saying this is what he is hoping I’m going to do,” said Mr Comey. “I did not obey that. But that was the way I took it.”
Mr Comey may not have delivered the smoking gun that some of Mr Trump’s critics may have wished. Yet, in the course of detailed, damaging insights about his conversations with the President, Mr Comey portrayed a commander-in-chief whom he could not trust. Indeed, so uncomfortable did he feel about their one-on-meetings, that he wrote lengthy memos to document what had been said. Previously, he had said Mr Trump repeatedly sought him to pledge his personal loyalty.
“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it really important to document,” Mr Comey said. “I knew there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened not only to defend myself but to protect the FBI.”
Mr Comey also accused the Trump administration of spreading “lies, plain and simple” about him and the FBI in the aftermath of his firing.
Democrats on the committee asked Mr Comey why he had not spoken out when the President said he hoped he could overlook Mr Flynn's behaviour. Senator Dianne Feinstein asked Mr Comey why he did not say "this is wrong" after Mr Trump said “I hope you can let this go”.
“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have,” Mr Comey said. “I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.”
There had been suggestions that Mr Trump would tweet throughout the hearing. As it was, he did not do so, perhaps at the suggestion of his legal team.
However, soon after the conclusion of Mr Comey’s testimony, a lawyer for Mr Trump, Marc Kasowitz, immediately hit back, and dismissed the former FBI Director’s claims.
He said Mr Trump had not asked Mr Comey for his loyalty and did not direct or suggest to him that he stop investigating Mr Flynn. He said: “The President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that Mr Comey ‘let Flynn go’.”
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