Ex-chief of FBI Comey testifies that Trump White House lied and ‘defamed’ him
Former FBI director says Trump directed him to halt Flynn-Russia investigation, and says ‘Lordy, I hope there are tapes’ of his conversations with US President
Welcome to the South China Morning Post’s coverage of former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to the US Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, about his interactions with US President Donald Trump.
During his keenly anticipated remarks, Comey accused the Trump administration of telling “lies” and trying to “defame me and more importantly the FBI” in the weeks since his firing last month.
From his first meeting with the then-president-elect in early January, Comey said he felt the need to document their conversations.“I was honestly concerned that he might lie” about what they talked about, Comey said.
Written testimony was released earlier, describing in detail Comey’s meetings with Trump, in which the US President is said to have pressured Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia links, before abruptly firing Comey. That written testimony can be read in full here.
Comey’s prepared remarks were followed by questions from senators. After a scheduled break, the hearing was to continue in the afternoon behind closed doors.
12.42 am HK / 12.42pm EDT: Republican committee chairman Senator Burr calls an end to public proceedings - “Jim ...on behalf of all the committee members we’re grateful to you and your service [as] someone who loves this country enough to tell it like it is”.
Vice chairman Senator Warner - “there are still a lot of unanswered questions ... the macro issue of what the Russians did”. The hearing is adjourned at 12.42 pm, before moving into a closed session in the next half hour or so.
12.31am HK/ 12.31pm EDT: Republican Senator John McCain stumbles through a question asking about the decision not to pursue an investigation into Hillary Clinton, but to proceed with a probe into Flynn and possibly Trump; McCain twice mistakenly refers to Trump as “Comey”. McCain asks how the FBI can be “done” with looking at Clinton with relation to Russia, but not “the other side”. Comey’s brow furrows as he tries to understand McCain’s questioning. Comey - “To be clear we have not announced ... an investigation [into a Russian] effort to co-ordinate with Secretary Clinton’s campaign.” McCain calls that a “double standard”. Chairman Burr shuts down the rambling questions by using his gavel for the first time.
12.29am HK/ 12.29pm EDT: Reed - Trump doesn’t seem particularly interested in the Russian threat. Comey - “I was fired to change the way the Russia investigation was being handled. That is a very big deal.”
12.26am HK/ 12.26pm EDT: Comey tells Democratic Senator Jack Reed he tried to explain to Trump why it was in his interest for the FBI to remain separate from the White House. But it was clear to him that “something was irritating” Trump about his handling of the Flynn investigation
12.20am HK/ 12.20pm EDT: Cornyn - does it make sense to try to shut down an FBI investigation by firing the FBI director? Comey gets some chuckles with his dry answer- “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m biased - because I’m the one who was fired.”
12.16am HK/ 12.16pm EDT: Republican Senator John Cornyn - “If an FBI agent believes a crime has been committed do they have a duty report it?” Comey - “I would expect any officer who has knowledge to report... but where that rests is the question”.
12.11am HK/ 12.11pm EDT: Donald Trump himself has so far been silent on Twitter since Comey’s testimony began, but his son, Donald Trump Jr, has been tweeting up a storm. Here are some choice samples .
Seems like she may be the only one having a really bad day. Isn't the "for political reasons" a big problem??? https://t.co/IWOR4se8Kd
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
Did I miss something or did Comey just say he asked a friend to leak information to the press? Is this a joke?
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
12.05am HK/ 12.05pm EDT: Cotton raises a New York Times story claiming contacts and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Was that story “about almost entirely wrong”? Comey - “Yes”.
12.03am HK/ 12.03pm EDT: Republican Senator Tom Cotton - “Did Donald Trump collude with Russia.” Comey - “That’s not a question I should answer in an open setting...that’s a question that will be answered by the [Mueller] investigation.”
12.01am HK /12.01pm EDT: Manchin - did Trump’s behaviour rise to the level of obstruction of justice? Comey - “I don’t know. That’s Bob Mueller’s job [to find out].”
Would you have been fired if Hillary Clinton became president. That’s a great question. I dont know.
11.59pm HK /11.59am EDT: Comey says US should have confidence in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia-links investigation . “You can have high confidence. He will turn over all the rocks.”
11.58pm HK /11.58am EDT: Democrat Senator Joe Manchin - why should we be worried about Russian election meddling? Comey - “Nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, except other Americans...They’re [the Russians] coming after America ... they want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world...we remain that shining city on the hill and they don’t like it.”
11.55pm HK /11.55am EDT: Republican Senator James Lankford raises the pressure of the previous Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch to change the way the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practises last year, by having him refer to it as “a matter”. Comey - “That gave me a queasy feeling.”
11.44pm HK /11.44am EDT: Comey interprets Trump’s pressure re Flynn probe by quoting Henry II’s famous quote about Thomas Becket, who was then murdered in 1170: “Will none rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
11.43pm HK /11.43am EDT: King - Is Steele dossier still being investigated or reviewed? Comey - “I don’t know.”
11.42pm HK /11.42am EDT: Independent Senator Angus King - “Will they [the Russians] be back” to meddle in US elections. Comey - “It’s a long term practise. They’ll be back.”
King - “Putin is not a Republican or a Democrat, he’s an opportunist.” Comey - “That’s a fair statement”.
11.35pm HK /11.35am EDT: Blunt hammers Comey on why he felt it appropriate to release his Trump memos to a “friend”, who then released them to the media. Comey - the unclassified “memorialisation” were his private records. “Journalists were camped at the end of my driveway...it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach” if he personally gave it to the media.
11.35pm HK /11.35am EDT: Republican Senator Roy Blunt - was it a mistake not to report Trump’s alleged attempts to interfere in the Flynn investigation? Comey - “no action” was the appropriate action to take. Comey reiterates his concern about Trump kicking Sessions out of White House Oval Office before Trump raised Flynn probe - “[I said] I report to you [Sessions], it’s very important that you be between me and the White House.”
11.30pm HK /11.30am EDT: Heinrich - why should we believe you about Trump meetings? Comey - “I’ve tried to be open and fair...why did he [Trump] kick everyone, the Attorney-General, out of the Oval Office? That to me, as an investigator, is a very serious fact.”
11.26pm HK /11.26am EDT: Democrat Senator Martin Heinrich - how serious were Russian actions to intefere in the 2016 presidential election? Comey - “The Russians interfered in our election - they did it with purpose, with determination ... there is no ‘fuzz’ on that. That’s about as unfake as you can possibly get. This is about America, not any particular party.”
11.25pm HK /11.25am EDT: Collins - Did you show people outside the DOJ about his memos recording Trump meetings? Comey says yes. He describes waking in the middle of the night and deciding he needed to do so. He asked “a close friend...a professor at Columbia law school” to release the memos, after Trump raised the prospect of “tapes”.
11.22pm HK /11.22am EDT: Collins - why didn’t Comey tell Trump he was wrong to raise the Flynn-Russia probe, after Trump had cleared AG Jeff Sessions from the room? Did Comey later try to inform White House that Trump was wrong to do this? Comey says he did, and he later told Sessions “I can’t happen, that you [Sessions] get kicked out of the room.”
11.20pm HK /11.20am EDT: Republican Senator Susan Collins - was the president under investigation at the time of your dismissal on May 9? Comey - “No”.
11.16pm HK /11.16am EDT: Wyden - who recommended your firing? Comey - doesn’t know.
11.13pm HK /11.13am EDT: Wyden - should US people be concerned that people who had Russian contacts are still in the White House? Comey dodges.
11.10pm HK /11.10am EDT: Democrat Senator Ron Wyden - regarding Trump’s dinner with Comey, “was your job contingent” on how the Flynn investigation was conducted? Comey - it was contingent on whether “I demonstrated loyalty” with regards to the investigation.
11.08pm HK /11.08am EDT: Rubio - you ever wonder why the only thing that wasn’t leaked was that Trump wasn’t under investigation? Comey - “don’t know”.
11.06pm HK /11.06am EDT: Rubio - raises “the McCabe thing”. Comey “I assured the President Andy was a total pro”. Andrew McCabe was deputy FBI director.
11.03pm HK /11.03am EDT: Republican Senator Marco Rubio - why didn’t Comey tell Trump he was wrong to ask to halt Flynn probe? Comey - “I don’t know ... I was a bit stunned.”
10.59pm HK /10.59am EDT: Feinstein - what was response of your FBI colleagues to Trump’s efforts to halt Flynn probe? Comey - they were “shocked ...very concerned”. Best move was to “hold it, keep it in a box ... ‘look it’s your word against the president’”
10.57pm HK /10.57am EDT: Comey on Trump meetings - “Lordy I hope there are tapes”
10.55pm HK /10.55am EDT: Comey tells Dianne Feinstein, California, “he was asking for something and I refused to give it.”
10.51pm HK /10.51am EDT: Risch - Trump “did not order” Comey to drop Flynn probe he said “I hope”. Comey - correct. But “I took it as a direction...this is what he wanted me to do.”
10.49pm HK /10.49am EDT: Rebublican Senator Jim Risch - “While you were director of the FBI, the president of the United States was not under investigation?” Comey - correct
10.46pm HK /10.46am EDT: Warner - Did Trump try to influence any investigations other than the Flynn probe. Comey - “No”.
10.46pm HK /10.46am EDT: Warner - in White House meeting, when Trump asked him alone about Flynn probe, Comey sensed that attorney general Sessions and Jared Kushner were “lingering” because they knew “something was about to happen”.
10.43pm HK /10.43am EDT: Warner - what did Comey mean by suggestion Trump was trying to create a “patronage relationship” with him. Comey - “The dinner was an effort to build a relationship of loyalty...[and] you’ve seen the picture of me walking across the Blue Room? He whispered in my ear ‘I’m looking forward to working with you’.”
10.37pm HK /10.36am EDT: Democrat vice-chairman Mark Warner - why did Comey feel need to write down the details of his meetings with Trump? Comey - “I was concerned he might lie about the content of our meeting.”
10.31pm HK /10.31am EDT: Burr - regarding the possibility of Russian blackmail, what was Comey’s reaction to the Steele dossier, given that it was “100 per cent” directed at the US President? Comey - “Not a question I can answer in an open setting.”
10.28pm HK /10.28am EDT: Burr raises the “Steele dossier” - the unconfirmed document describing Trump’s alleged use of prostitutes in Russia. Could FBI confirm any of its contents? Comey - It’s “not a question I can answer in an open setting, because it goes into the details of an investigation.”
10.25pm HK /10.23am EDT: Burr - “was President trying to obstruct justice” regarding investigation into Michael Flynn? Comey - “It was a disturbing thing”, but not my place to judge obstruction.
10.23pm HK /10.23am EDT: Burr - “Do you have any doubt” about Russian attempts to influence 2016 election. Comey: “No.”
10.19pm HK /10.19am EDT: Change of plans. Comey says he won’t re-read his written testimony, will begin taking questions immediately after brief remarks. He says he was “confused” by his firing by Trump, who told him he had been doing “a great job”. Says he learned of firing from TV report, and it “didn’t make sense”. Expresses surprise at Trump’s “lies” that FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey. “The administration then chose to defame me...those were lies, plain and simple.”
10.18pm HK /10.18am EDT: Comey stands to take the oath. Camera shutters erupt.
10.16pm HK /10.16am EDT: Warner says Trump had “odd and unexplained affection” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Says Trump tried to “co-opt” Comey to his side. “Think about it: the President of the United States asking the FBI director to drop an active investigation.”
10.11pm HK /10.11am EDT: Democrat vice-chairman Mark Warner - “this is not about re-litigating the election...we are here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home...seeking to hijack our most important democratic election.” Says “we cannot let anyone” get in the way of the investigation.
10.08pm HK /10.08am EDT: Burr asks, did Russian efforts to influence Trump campaign rise to the level of “collusion”?
10.05pm HK /10.05am EDT: The committee’s Republican chairman Richard Burr welcomes Comey, thanks him for his service. Looks forward to “open testimony” about possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “Jim, today is your opportunity to set the record straight,” says Burr. “The American people need to hear your side of the story, in addition to the President’s version of events.”
10.03pm HK/10.03am EDT: Comey takes his seat
10pm HK/10am EDT: Good evening (and good morning) as we begin our coverage of James Comey’s testimony, which has been dubbed the “political superbowl”. Comey has arrived on Capitol Hill and is due to be sworn in soon.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Associated Press