Comey testimony: Highlights from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing

Former FBI Director James Comey spoke before a Senate panel about his private conversations with President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Comey had released a written statement the day before, detailing several meetings and phone conversations with the president. Senators were prepared with questions regarding that statement.

The former FBI director was fired by Trump in May in the middle of the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether or not Trump’s campaign had any involvement.

Here are the notable quotes from Comey’s testimony:

‘I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting’

Comey said he made a record of his first meeting with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, because he was concerned that the then-president elect “might lie” about the meeting. He added that he knew he would need a record to defend himself and the FBI.

Comey said he had not felt compelled to document meetings with former Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush.

‘He’s looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay on the job’

Comey said his “common sense” told him that when Trump spoke with him about his job in a private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, it was an attempt to build a relationship of loyalty. Comey said he felt like the president “was looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay on the job.”

During the dinner, Trump had told Comey, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a very disturbing development’ “

The former FBI director said he was concerned when Trump instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other officials to leave the Oval Office so he could speak with Comey alone on Feb. 14, 2017. Comey said he knew “something big is about to happen” and that he should remember everything the president said.

In that private meeting, Trump told Comey, he hoped he would drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had been misleading about his contacts with Russian officials before Trump became president. “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,” Trump said, according to Comey. 

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a very disturbing development,'” Comey said, adding that he took Trump’s words “as a direction” even though he did not obey them.

‘I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in’

When asked why he didn’t tell the president that his remark about hoping he would let the Flynn investigation go was inappropriate, Comey said he was “so stunned” that he didn’t know what to say. 

“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have,” Comey said. “I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.”

Comey told Trump that he agreed that Flynn was “a good guy,” but he did not say anything about dropping the investigation of Flynn.

“Even if I had the presence of mind, I don’t know if I would’ve said, ‘Sir, that’s wrong.’ What came to mind is ‘be careful what you say,’ ” Comey added.

‘I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter’

Comey admitted that he leaked a memo about his conversation in the Oval Office with Trump on Feb. 14, 2017. He said the memo contained only unclassified information, and he hoped asking a friend to share it with the press would spark the call for a special counsel on the Russia probe.

“As a private citizen, I felt free to share it,” he said.

When asked why he didn’t share the memo himself, he said, “I worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.”

‘Release all the tapes. I’m good with it’

Comey said he does not know if Trump recorded any of their conversations, but added that he hopes there are tapes. 

“It never occurred to me until the president’s tweets,” Comey said, referring to a tweet in which Trump said Comey “better hope” there aren’t tapes of their conversations before he tells the press anything.

“Release all the tapes. I’m good with it,” he added.

‘I was fired because of the Russia investigation’

The former FBI director said he “didn’t buy” the explanation the administration gave for his firing. 

“There’s no doubt that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” he said, adding that he understood that Trump was not happy with the way the investigation was being conducted.

‘Those were lies, plain and simple’

In his opening statement, Comey said the administration “defamed” him and the FBI “by saying that the organization was in disarray. That it was poorly led. That the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.”

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” he said.

During an interview with NBC News after Comey’s firing, Trump said “the FBI has been in turmoil.”

‘That’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get’

Comey said there is no doubt that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered with the presidential election,” he said. “It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get.”

‘People talking about classified information often don’t really know what’s going on’

Commenting on news articles about the Russia investigation, Comey said some of them “are just dead wrong.” 

“People talking about classified information often don’t really know what’s going on, and the people who know what’s going on aren’t talking about it,” Comey said.

He did not go into specifics about what information was incorrect.

‘I can’t answer that in an open setting’

There were some questions that Comey said he was not able to answer in the hearing, including whether Flynn was at the center of the Russia investigation and if he believed the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. 

He also said he could not say what he knows about the name “VEB.” VEB stands for Vnesheconombank, which is a Russian government-owned bank.

Trump’s response

Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said Comey’s testimony proved the president was not under any investigation and there is no evidence a single vote was changed as a result of Russian interference in last year’s election.

Kasowitz denied Trump ever told Comey he needed and expected his loyalty, as Comey said, and also slammed the former FBI chief for saying he leaked details of a conversation with the president. Kasowitz added that “we will leave it the appropriate authorities” to determine whether Comey’s leak “should be investigated along with all those others being investigated.”

With Reuters