During his feverishly-anticipated testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, ousted FBI Director James Comey made a host of major revelations about his handling of President Donald Trump and the federal investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election in the months before he was abruptly fired in May.
Importantly, Comey disclosed new information about actions he took when he became concerned about the Trump administration’s attempts to establish a “patronage” relationship with him and persuade him to drop the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Here’s an overview of some of the most significant moments from the hearing, where Comey revealed exactly what steps he took and why he took them.
He kept memos of talks with Trump because he feared POTUS would lie
News outlets have reported for several weeks that Comey wrote detailed memos after each of his conversations with President Trump. Comey’s testimony revealed that he began documenting those encounters immediately after he first met the President-elect in early January at Trump Tower, typing a memo on a laptop in his car as soon as he exited the building out of fear Trump would publicly mischaracterize their interaction.
“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document,” he said.
Under questioning, Comey divulged that he did not create such a paper trail after his interactions with President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush. He said he adopted the practice specifically for Trump because of the “nature of the person.”
He told Trump he wasn’t a target of FBI probe to avoid ‘J. Edgar Hoover-type situation’
Comey’s confirmation of Trump’s claim that the then-FBI director informed him on three separate occasions that he was not personally under investigation has become one of Republicans’ main talking points in the President’s defense. But several senators expressed confusion and dismay Thursday when Comey revealed that he first informed Trump of this voluntarily, without the President asking.
In that January conversation, Comey said, he briefed Trump about a salacious and bizarre allegation in an unverified dossier that the Russian government had compromising records of Trump consorting with “hookers in Russia” that it planned to use as leverage.
“My reading of it was, it was important for me to assure him we were not personally investigating him,” Comey said. “Because it was, first, true, and second, I was worried very much of being in kind of a — kind of a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation.”
“I didn’t want him thinking that I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way,” he continued. “I was briefing him on it because we had been told by the media it was about the launch. We don’t want to be keeping that from him, and if—He needed to know this was being said. But I was keen to not leave him with the impression that the bureau was trying to do something to him.”
Comey later confirmed that he gave Trump two subsequent assurances that he was not under investigation in response to queries from the President himself. Former DOJ and FBI officials have said such requests constitute a serious breach of protocol.
Comey said that at the time he was fired in early May, the bureau was not investigating Trump, but dropped several hints that may not hold true today, including the revelation that he has turned over all memos of his conversations with Trump to special counsel Robert Mueller.
He kept FBI in the dark about Trump’s request to drop Flynn probe to avoid “chilling effect” on Russia probe
Multiple senators pressed Comey on why he didn’t do more to blow the whistle on Trump saying he “hoped” the then-FBI director would drop the Flynn investigation.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) noted that it was no secret Trump viewed the investigation as a “witch hunt,” since he freely and frequently tweeted that views. He then asked why Comey did not feel comfortable sharing the President’s similar private remarks.
Comey responded that there is a major difference between a tweet and what transpired in their one-on-one conversation at the White House.
“I think there’s a big difference in kicking superior officers out of the Oval Office, looking the FBI director in the eye and saying ‘I hope you let this go,'” he said.
Comey added that sounding the alarm about Trump’s request could have done damage within the FBI as it pursued its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I think if the agents, as good as they are, heard the President of the United States did that, there’s a real risk of a chilling effect on their work,” he said. “That’s why we kept it so tight.”
He orchestrated the release of the contents of his memos to the press to spur DOJ to appoint a special counsel
For the first time, Comey revealed that he intentionally maneuvered to get the contents of his Trump memos out to the press without his fingerprints on them. He said he decided to do this after the President threatened via Twitter to release “tapes” of their conversations, and with the express hope that getting the memos out in the public conversation would spur the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to take over the Russia investigation.
“I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, there might be a tape. And my judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square,” Comey testified. “And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel, and so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman since has acknowledged that he is the friend in question.
Comey said he did not give the memo directly to the press because it would have sparked a feeding frenzy akin to “seagulls at the beach.”