Confirming that he spoke privately with Donald Trump nine times – three times in person and six times on the phone – former FBI Director James Comey will tell the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday that he told Trump he wasn’t under a counterintelligence investigation, deflected entreaties to drop the probe into Michael Flynn and heard the then president-elect dispel claims in the salacious dossier that the Russians allegedly held on him.
The first one-on-one meeting with Trump – in Trump Tower in New York on January 6 – was disconcerting enough to compel Comey to write down notes from the meeting “on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting,” Comey will say in his opening statement before the committee. “Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.”
In contrast, Comey will say, in his prepared remarks, the text of which he released Wednesday, that he met one-on-one with former President Obama only twice – once to discuss law enforcement issues and another to say goodbye to the outgoing president – and neither time did he feel compelled to “memorialize the discussions.”
A now famous January 27 dinner in the Green Room at the White House again found Comey alone with the president, who took him by surprise by asking if he’d like to remain as FBI director.
He found the request strange “because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to,” Comey will tell senators, noting that at that point he interpreted the goal of the dinner to be “at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” The president “said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.”
It was at that meeting that Trump asked for loyalty and that Comey told him he “was not ‘reliable’ in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth.”
At a Valentine’s Day meeting, after Trump had dismissed others, he told Comey he wanted to discuss former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign February 13 after it was discovered he had discussed sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and Vice President Mike Pence along with others hovering outside the door, Comey will testify Trump called Flynn “a good guy” and repeated earlier assertions that he “hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President,” before saying, “’I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’”
“I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. 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,” Comey will say. “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.”
The FBI team decided not to clue in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was still going through the confirmation process, since he would likely recuse himself from the investigation and to avoid infecting “the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide,” Comey will testify.
Comey did share the president’s concerns about leaks with Sessions and also requested to the Attorney General that the president not contact him directly. “I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me,” his remarks show. “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.”
The former FBI director, in his opening remarks, also recounts two phone calls between him and Trump, the first on March 30 where the president called the Russia investigation “’a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.” Assuring Comey he had “had nothing to do with Russia,” including being involved with hookers, as the dossier contended, and “said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.” Comey reported the substance of that call to the Acting Deputy Attorney General but received no reply.
The president followed up with Comey to see what he’d done about “his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation,” in an April 11 phone call, the last time Comey spoke privately with Trump. The former FBI director told him the request had been passed along to the Acting Deputy Attorney General but he’d received no reply. “He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled,” Comey will tell the senators. “I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.”
Comey was fired less than a month later, on May 9.