Comey: FBI was not investigating Trump for Russian ties

Written testimony released one day before ex-FBI Director is set to testify before Congress

Kevin Lamarque—Reuters
FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington

WASHINGTON — Former Director of the FBI James Comey says that President Donald Trump was not personally under investigation for Russian campaign ties, though the president applied pressure regarding the Michael Flynn investigation and told him he “expected loyalty”. Comey also says he felt “uneasy” in several one-on-one meetings with the president, and had expressed his discomfort to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee released Comey’s full prepared remarks one day before he is set to testify before the congressional body. In his opening the remarks, Comey details his interactions with President Donald Trump between January and April, recalling awkward conversations about the relationship between the White House and the FBI. Comey says he first met then President-Elect Trump on January 6 in a conference room at Trump Tower in New York. He explains that he was initially joined by other Intelligence Community leaders, and later alone, to brief the president and his new national security team on the findings of an assessment concerning Russian efforts to interfere in the election. The Intelligence leaders alerted Trump to the existence of “salacious and unverified material” that would likely be released by the media and could have been an effort to compromise the incoming U.S. President. Comey may have been referring to unsubstantiated reports that were released just a few days later claiming the existence of a video involving Trump and Russian prostitutes. Prior to the meeting, the Intelligence Community had agreed to assure the president that he was not personally under investigation for campaign collusion with Russian hackers. “During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance,” Comey recalled.The former head of the FBI says that he felt compelled to document his interactions with Trump, though he had never memorialized his conversations with former President Barack Obama. He noted that he had several more interactions with Trump over the four months he served as his FBI Director, recalling nine one-on-one conversations, versus only two in-person meetings with Obama over his tenure.In a private dinner a few weeks later, Comey indicated that he felt “uneasy” with the relationship that the White House hoped to form and his office.”My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship,” said Comey. “That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”Comey said Trump told him “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” At first the then-Director recalled, “I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence,” but when Trump later ended the dinner with a similar request for loyalty, Comey replied “You will always get honesty from me.”On February 14, one day after Michael Flynn resigned from a national security post with the administration regarding conversations with a Russian Ambassador, Comey was asked to meet privately with Trump in the Oval Office. Comey recalls that Trump spoke well of Flynn’s character, calling him a “good guy” and then asked him to let any investigation of the former Army Lt. General go. He says did not believe the president was pressuring him about a broader investigation into Russian ties to his campaign.”I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls,” Comey’s written statement reads. “Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.” Comey noted that he chose not to “infect the investigative team with the President’s request” to not investigate Flynn.Following this meeting, Comey says he met with Sessions to express his concern about the relationship and the request to ease off Flynn. He told Sessions that he was uncomfortable meeting alone with the president.”I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me,” said Comey.According to the testimony, the Attorney General “did not reply”. Sessions would later recommend Comey’s dismissal in a formal letter to the president. Throughout his written statement, Comey says that he continuously assured the president that he was not under investigation. Trump told the Director he felt that the public and media speculation that he was under investigation was “a cloud” over his presidency that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”Trump hoped that Comey could somehow let the public know he was not under investigation, something the FBI historically does not do as it would create a duty to correct should new evidence come to light. Comey noted that the president called him twice about this issue, on March 30 and April 11. Both times Comey said he reported Trump’s concerns to fix his public image to the Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, as Sessions had recused himself from all Russian-related matters.Comey says his last conversation with the Trump was that second phone call in April. Trump fired Comey on May 9. When asked if Trump had reviewed Comey’s statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, “I’m not aware if he’s had a chance to review any of the specific details of that testimony.””I do find the timing of the release a little bit interesting – directly after the testimony from the other hearing earlier today,” she added.Earlier on Wednesday, top intelligence officials refused at a Senate hearing to discuss whether Trump had pressured them to intervene in the FBI probe into alleged Russian interference.Both Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee they believed their conversations with the president were confidential.Comey is set to appear in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at 10am on Thursday, delivering these much-anticipated remarks and fielding questions from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.Patricia Zengerle at Reuters News Service contributed to this article.