3 biggest takeaways from James Comey's prewritten testimony on Donald Trump
On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released FBI Director James Comey's prewritten intro to his testimony on President Donald Trump, who has faced accusations — that he more or less personally confirmed — he fired Comey for investigating ties between the president’s team and Russia.
The Republican Party was quick to brag about the lack of "substance" in Comey's written comments.
In actuality, Comey's statement is loaded with details on just how hard — and how incompetently — the president tried to recruit Comey into quashing the FBI investigation into the alleged ties between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Trump, Comey wrote, tried to enlist him into "some sort of patronage" relationship and hounded him for weeks before terminating him May 9.
Here are the three biggest things to emerge from Comey's testimony.
1. Trump's pressure on Comey was repeated and obvious.
On at least four occasions, the president pressured the FBI director to do as he bid, leaving little ambiguity as to his intentions.
On Jan. 27, Comey wrote, Trump summoned him to a dinner that "turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small over table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks ... 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."
At the same dinner, Trump told the FBI director "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," and later returned to the same subject at the end of the meal. He also told Comey he considered asking him to disprove January's salacious intel report that claimed he was filmed at a "golden showers" party in Moscow.
On Feb. 14, Trump ordered other administration officials out of the Oval Office before making a "long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information." He turned to the subject of Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser fired for lying to other administration officials about a phone call with the Russian ambassador, who has since been revealed to have taken undisclosed payments from foreign governments.
On March 30, Trump called Comey on the phone, angry about a hearing in which Comey confirmed the FBI's investigation into Trump. During the call, Trump stressed the "cloud" building over his presidency that threatened to interfere with, in Comey's words, "his ability to make deals for the country ... [Trump said] he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn't being investigated." Trump appeared to suggest Comey owed the president, reminding Comey he allowed Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to stay on despite McCabe's close relationship with the Clintons.
On April 11, Trump again phoned Comey, demanding to know why he was not cleared in the investigation.
"I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know," Trump said. Comey said he did not know what the president was referring to.
2. Other senior administration officials let it happen.
Also during the Feb. 14 meeting, Comey noted the presence of a number of top officials including the vice president, deputy director of the CIA, director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, secretary of Homeland Security and the attorney general. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was also in attendance, among others.
Several officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Kushner, apparently tried to gently dissuade the president from having everyone leave but Comey, suggesting they were aware he was about to do something ill-advised. But all of them ultimately deferred to Trump's authority.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus "leaned in through the door" when the meeting dragged on but was promptly waved off.
Comey said that after Trump used the closed-door meeting to pressure him on Flynn, Comey told Sessions he expected the Department of Justice to shield him from such pressure from Trump. Comey wrote he "took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me. I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply."
After the March 30 phone call, Comey wrote that he called Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to "report the substance of the call from the president" but never received a reply.
3. Comey described bizarre and troubling behavior by the president.
The president's demeanor and temperament has long been the subject of public concern, but Comey's testimony seemed to describe a man whose actions could, at the very least, be considered concerning. Trump wasn't just preoccupied with the allegations against him — he acted in ways that suggest he doesn't entirely realize the limitations of his office or the way others might interpret his behavior.
That Comey immediately concluded the Jan. 27 dinner was an attempt to establish a patronage relationship only underscores the obvious intent behind the one-on-one meeting and the idea the president was not aware that his movements and meetings are noted at all times.
Comey wrote he told Trump he could not promise loyalty, only honesty, and Trump responded "That's what I want, honest loyalty." Comey was confused as to what exactly the president meant by the or what he expected Comey to do, calling the interaction "very awkward."
Trump also seemed to think it wasn't a bad idea to have the FBI investigate the "golden showers" allegation, forcing Comey to explain "it was very difficult to prove a negative."
Comey noted how the president went back and forth between various topics during the Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office before eventually returning to the "problem of leaks" — after which Comey "got up and left out the door." He didn't specifically mention being excused, indicating Trump had gone on for so long that he didn't see a point in his continued presence.
On March 30, Trump apparently used the word "hookers" while discussing the "golden showers" tape. "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia," Comey wrote.
Later, when Trump brought up his theorized McCabe-Clinton link, he did not appear to understand the allegation was immaterial, leaving Comey confused as to "why the president was bringing this up."
June 7, 2017, 5:24 p.m. Eastern: This article has been updated.