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Comey’s testimony: What happened and what it means

By Amber WangJune 8, 2017

James Comey Testifies
James Comey Testifies Mark Wilson / Staff

From months of media coverage and speculations comes ex-FBI director James Comey’s time to set the record straight about what transpired between him and President Donald J. Trump. Some key questions that are to be answered in the testimony are why Comey thinks he was fired and does Comey think the Trump administration worked with Russia to torpedo the election. 

Before the hearing, Comey released a prepared testimony that was about seven pages in length and iterated key points about his interactions with Trump and the implications of such interactions. Focal points include Comey’s desire to write memos after each meeting, Trump’s “hope” to have the Michael Flynn investigation dropped and Trump’s repeated remarks about “loyalty.”

In his introduction, Comey highlighted that the president repeatedly told him he was doing a good job before the unexpected firing and that after, the White House attempted to defame himself and the FBI and called them a “disarray.” Comey ended his introduction with goodbyes to his FBI team and the statement, “The FBI is honest, the FBI is strong and the FBI is and always will be independent.”

Chairman Richard Burr started off the hearing with some questions regarding the prepared testimony and Russia’s interference with the 2016 elections, in which Comey replied with answers that the special counsel's office did not edit his testimony and that he had no doubt that the Russians tried to interfere with the elections. Another major point was coercion being a thin line for when a foreign power’s interactions with the incoming administration becomes worrisome. Comey also cannot provide further details on the published Steele dossier.

Comey also said that he thinks he handled the Clinton email affair the best way that he could and he was first aware of the Russian cyber intrusions in the late summer of 2015. The government and many institutions were targeted as a whole. 

Vice chairman Mark Warner reiterates the fact that Comey’s firing was unexpected and “disturbing.” They also went over how inappropriate it was that Trump asked Comey to drop an ongoing investigation on Flynn and the obvious untruth of Trump’s first explanation for firing Comey — over the Clinton emails. 

Here, Warner asks a question that later Senators will reiterate — what prompted him to record thoughts and happenings of his meetings with Trump and not past presidents such as Bush and Obama? Comey replied with three points — circumstance, subject matter and person. He was alone with the president elect, the subject matter dealt with the FBI’s core responsibility and Trump, as a person, could lie about their meetings. This is now the second time in which Comey has called Trump a liar.

They also went over one of Comey’s main interactions with Trump — the Jan 26 dinner in which they met one on one. The president asked him questions about his intentions of staying on as FBI director which Comey took as questioning his loyalty and the development of a patronage relationship. Comey said that Trump may have been holding the job over his head in return for loyalty and favors. Comey has never been in a situation of a private presidential dinner nor loyalty requests. 

In the Feb 14 meeting, President Trump cleared the room — even excusing Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions, something unheard of and very disturbing to the senators — to bring up the issue of Michael Flynn. Trump said that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy” in which Comey replied, “He is a good guy.” Comey wrote an unclassified memo about this meeting that he knew could later be shared with others. 

In response to Senator Risch’s questions, Comey said that he told Trump that he was not under investigation on three separate occasions. They also touched upon the false New York Times article on the Russia’s electronic surveillance. 

Risch is really hitting Comey hard on his wording and the president’s wording. “I hope” is not an order and therefore not an obstruction of justice. Senator Feinstein iterated a point that a lot of other senators repeated — why didn’t he tell Trump that this was wrong and inappropriate? Comey repeatedly says that he was stunned and needed to be careful with his words. He admits to cowardice, although most would think this is not the case. Comey also told Feinstein that he believes the president fired him due to the Russia investigations from his interviews and tweets. 

In a phone call, Trump described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing him from his duties. Comey said he interpreted this as a cue to let it go. He responded with “I will see what we could do” as a cowardly way of avoiding the conversation.

Senator Rubio summarizes the three things Trump requested of Comey — be loyal, let the Mike Flynn thing go and tell everyone that he is personally under investigation. Rubio also brings up the fact that out of all the information that were leaked, the last point was not. 

Senator Wyden commented further on the nature of Comey’s dinner with Trump and what would have happened if Comey adhered to the president’s “hopes.” Comey did not alert his team of his conversations in fear of their ability to remain “impartial and effective” afterwards. 

Under Senator Collins, Comey said that he told his friend to give his memos to the press after he realized that Trump could have tapes to their conversations. Lots of people are apparently hung up on his “Lordy!” exclamation before the statement. 

Another key statement is “There should be no fuzz in this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in the election.” 

Senator Blunt hits Comey hard with questions as to why he didn’t take responsibility to leak the memos himself and not rejecting phone calls from the POTUS. Senator Manchin then asks about Russian activity and Trump’s initiations which Comey responded with repeated answers. He also gives a glowing monologue about how Russians are jealous of our “shining city on that hill.”

Senator Lankford asks for the return of the leaked memos, how a president could make an FBI investigation stop and the details of the Clinton email affair. The Clinton campaign advised Comey to not “call it an investigation,” but instead, “a matter.” Further questions about the Clinton campaign, Russia and Flynn were not answerable by Comey in an open setting.

The questions quickly became repetitive and not answerable due to classifications. Senator Cornyn asks Comey if firing the FBI director was a good way of halting any investigation which Comey replies that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Comey also states that he does not know if FBI workers are legally obligated to report crimes, but should be ethically bound to do so.

Senator McCain ends the hearing with another beating about how Comey should have asked what “that thing” was — in reference to the April 11 phone call. He iterates that it could have held significant meaning and should have been further discussed. McCain also seems to be clinging onto strings regarding the Clinton campaign and how its investigations were closed and Trump’s was not. He also confuses his wording multiple times and seems a bit out of it. 
And thus concludes the hearing with these main points — Comey implies Trump is a liar, Comey always took notes when meeting with Trump, Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation, Russia definitely interfered with the election, Comey wants the tapes to be released and Comey cannot comment on whether or not Trump colluded with Russia.