James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director who was fired by President Trump, appeared in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. The following is a partial transcript of that hearing, as prepared by the Federal News Service. This will continue to be updated.
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BURR: I’d like to call this hearing to order.
Director Comey, I appreciate your willingness to appear before the committee today, and more importantly, I thank you for your dedicated service and leadership to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Your appearance today speaks to the trust we have built over the years, and I’m looking forward to a very open and candid discussion today.
BURR: I’d like to remind my colleagues that we will reconvene in closed session at 1 PM today and I ask that you reserve for that venue any questions that might get into classified information. The director has been very gracious with his time, but the vice chairman and I have worked out a very specific timeline for his commitment to be on the Hill, so we will do everything we can to meet that agreement.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence exists to certify for the other 85 members of the United States Senate and the American people that the intelligence community is operating lawfully and has the necessary authorities and tools to accomplish its mission and keep America safe. Part of our mission, beyond the oversight we continue to provide to the intelligence community and its activities, is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. The committee’s work continues. This hearing represents part of that effort.
Jim, allegations have been swirling in the press for the last several weeks, and today’s your opportunity to set the record straight. Yesterday, I read with interest your statement for the record. And I think it provides some helpful details surrounding your interactions with the president.
It clearly lays out your understanding of those discussions, actions you took following each conversation and your state of mind. I very much appreciate your candor, and I think it’s helpful as we work through to determine the ultimate truth behind possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Your statement also provides texture and context to your interactions with the president, from your vantage point, and outlines a strained relationship. The American people need to hear your side of the story just as they need to hear the president’s descriptions of events.
These interactions also highlight the importance of the committee’s ongoing investigation. Our experienced staff is interviewing all relevant parties and some of the most sensitive intelligence in our country’s possession.
We will establish the facts, separate from rampant speculation, and lay them out for the American people to make their own judgment. Only then will we as a nation be able to move forward and to put this episode to rest. There are several outstanding issues not addressed in your statement that I hope you’ll clear up for the American people today. Did the president’s request for loyalty — your impression that — that the one-on-one dinner of January 27th was, and I quote, “at least in part an effort to create some sort of patronage relationship,” or his March 30th phone call asking what you could do to lift the cloud of Russia investigation in any way, alter your approach of the FBI’s investigation into General Flynn or the broader investigation into Russia and possible links to the campaign?
In your opinion, did potential Russian efforts to establish links with individuals in the Trump orbit rise to the level we could define as collusion? Or was it a counterintelligence concern?
There’s been a significant public speculation about your decision-making related to the Clinton e-mail investigation. Why did you decide publicly — to publicly announce FBI’s recommendations that the Department of Justice not pursue criminal charges? You have described it as a choice between a bad decision and a worse decision. The American people need to understand the facts behind your action.
This committee is uniquely suited to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. We also have a unified, bipartisan approach to what is a highly charged partisan issue. Russian activities during 2016 election may have been aimed at one party’s candidate, but as my colleague, Senator Rubio, says frequently, in 2018 and 2020, it could be aimed at anyone, at home or abroad.
My colleague, Senator Warner, and I have worked in — have worked to to stay in lockstep on this investigation. We’ve had our differences on approach at times. But I’ve constantly stressed that we need to be a team. And I think Senator Warner agrees with me.
We must keep these questions above politics and partisanship. It’s too important to be tainted by anyone trying to score political points.
With that, again, I welcome you, Director.
And I turn to the vice chairman for any comments he might have.
WARNER: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And let me start by, again, absolutely (ph) thanking all the members of the committee for the seriousness in which they’ve taken on this task.
WARNER: Mr. Comey, thank you for agreeing to come testify as part of this committee’s investigation into Russia. I realize that this hearing has been, obviously, the focus of a lot of Washington in the last few days. But the truth is many Americans who may be tuning in today probably haven’t focused on every twist and turn of the investigation.
So I’d like to briefly describe, at least from this senator’s standpoint, what we already know and what we’re still investigating. To be clear, this whole (ph) investigation is not about relitigating the election. It’s not about who won or lost. And it sure as heck is not about Democrats versus Republicans.
We’re here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process — our presidential election.
Russian spies engaged in a series of online cyber raids and a broad campaign of disinformation, all ultimately aimed at sowing chaos to us to undermine public faith in our process, in our leadership and ultimately in ourselves.
And that’s not just this senator’s opinion, it is the unanimous determination of the entire U.S. intelligence community. So we must find out the full story, what the Russians did, and, candidly, as some other colleagues have mentioned, why they were so successful. And, more importantly, we must determine the necessary steps to take to protect our democracy and ensure they can’t do it again.
Chairman mentioned elections in 2018 and 2020. In my home state of Virginia, we have elections this year, in 2017. Simply put, we cannot let anything or anyone prevent us from getting to the bottom of this.
Now, Mr. Comey, let me say at the outset we haven’t always agreed on every issue. In fact, I’ve occasionally questioned some of the actions you’ve taken. But I’ve never had any reason to question your integrity, your expertise or your intelligence.
You’ve been a straight shooter with this committee, and have been willing to speak truth to power, even at the risk of your own career, which makes the way in which you were fired by the president ultimately shocking.
WARNER: Recall, we began this entire process with the president and his staff first denying that the Russians were ever involved, and then falsely claiming that no one from his team was never in touch with any Russians.
We know that’s just not the truth. Numerous Trump associates had undisclosed contacts with Russians before and after the election, including the president’s attorney general, his former national security adviser and his current senior adviser, Mr. Kushner.
That doesn’t even begin to count the host of additional campaign associates and advisers who’ve also been caught up in this massive web. We saw Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Mr. Manafort, forced to step down over ties to Russian-backed entities. The national security adviser, General Flynn, had to resign over his lies about engagements with the Russians.
And we saw the candidate him — himself, express an odd and unexplained affection for the Russian dictator, while calling for the hacking of his opponent. There’s a lot to investigate. Enough, in fact that then Director Comey publicly acknowledged that he was leading an investigation into those links between Mr. Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
As the director of the FBI, Mr. Comey was ultimately responsible for conducting that investigation, which might explain why you’re sitting now as a private citizen.
What we didn’t know was, at the same time that this investigation was proceeding, the president himself appears to have been engaged in an effort to influence, or at least co-opt, the director of the FBI. The testimony that Mr. Comey has submitted for today’s hearing is very disturbing.
For example, on January 27th, after summoning Director Comey to dinner, the president appears to have threatened the (ph) director’s job while telling him, quote, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
WARNER: At a later meeting, on February 14th, the president asked the attorney general to leave the Oval Office so that he could privately ask Director Comey, again, quote, “to see way clear (ph) to letting Flynn go.”
That is a statement that Director Comey interpreted as a — as a request that he drop the investigation, connected to General Flynn’s false statements. Think about it: the president of the United States asking the FBI director to drop an ongoing investigation.
And, after that, the president called the FBI director on two additional occasions, March 30th and April 11th, and asked him again, quote, “to lift the cloud” on the Russian investigation.
Now, Director Comey denied each of these improper requests. The loyalty pledge, the admonition to drop the Flynn investigation, the request to lift the cloud on the Russia investigation. Of course, after his refusals, Director Comey was fired.
The initial explanation for the firing didn’t pass any smell test. So now Director Comey was fired because (ph) he didn’t treat Hillary Clinton appropriately. Of course, that explanation lasted about a day, because the president himself then made very clear that he was thinking about Russia when he decided to fire Director Comey.
Shockingly, reports suggest that the president admitted as much in an Oval Office meeting with the Russians the day after Director Comey was fired, disparaging our country’s top law enforcement official as a, quote/unquote, “nut job.” The president allegedly suggested that his firing relieved great pressure on his feelings about Russia.
This is not happening in isolation. At the same time the president was engaged in these efforts with Director Comey, he was also, at least allegedly, asking senior leaders of the intelligence community to downplay the Russia investigation or to intervene with the director.
Yesterday, we had DNI Director Coats and NSA Director Admiral Rogers, who were offered a number of opportunities to flatly deny those press reports. They expressed their opinions, but they did not take that opportunity to deny those reports. They did not take advantage of that opportunity. In my belief, that’s not how the president of the United States should behave.
Regardless of the outcome of our investigation into the Russia links, Director Comey’s firing and his testimony raise separate and troubling questions that we must get to the bottom of.
Again, as I said at the outset, I’ve seen firsthand how seriously every member of this committee is taking his work. I’m proud of the committee’s efforts so far. Let me be clear: This is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news. It is an effort to protect our country from a new threat that, quite honestly, will not go away any time soon.
So, Mr. Comey, your testimony here today will help us move towards that goal. I look forward to that testimony.
WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Thank you, Vice Chairman.
Director, as discussed, when you agreed to appear before the committee, it would be under oath. I’d ask you to please stand. Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
BURR: Please be seated.
Director Comey, you’re now under oath.
And I would just note to members, you will be recognized by seniority for a period up to seven minutes. And again, it is the intent to move to a closed session no later than 1 p.m.
With that, Director Comey, you are recognized. You have the floor for as long as you might need.
COMEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ranking Member Warner, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here to testify today. I’ve submitted my statement for the record and I’m not going to repeat it here this morning. I thought I would just offer some very brief introductory remarks and then I would welcome your questions.
When I was appointed FBI director in 2013, I understood that I served at the pleasure of the president. Even though I was appointed to a 10 year term, which Congress created in order to underscore the importance of the FBI being outside of politics and independent, I understood that I could be fired by a president for any reason, or for no reason at all.
And on May the 9th, when I learned that I had been fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen. But then, the explanations — the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me.
COMEY: They confused me because the president and I had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office. And he had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped I would stay. And I had repeatedly assured him that I did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term.
He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current attorney general, and had learned that I was doing a great job and that I was extremely well-liked by the FBI workforce.
So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned, again, from the media that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation.
I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn’t make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn’t make any sense to me.
And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, 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, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.
I worked every day at the FBI to help make that great organization better. And I say “help” because I did nothing alone at the FBI. There are no indispensable people at the FBI. The organization’s great strength is that its values and abilities run deep and wide.
The FBI will be fine without me. The FBI’s mission will be relentlessly pursued by its people, and that mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.
COMEY: I will deeply miss being part of that mission, but this organization and its mission will go on long beyond me and long beyond any particular administration.
I have a message before I close for the — my former colleagues at the FBI. But first, I want the American people to know this truth: The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is, and always will be, independent.
And now to my former colleagues, if I may. I am so sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. It was the honor of my life to serve beside you, to be part of the FBI family. And I will miss it for the rest of my life.
Thank you for standing watch. Thank you for doing so much good for this country. Do that good as long as ever you can.
And, Senators, I look forward to your questions.
BURR: Director, thank you for that testimony, both oral and the written testimony that you provided to the committee yesterday and made public to the American people.
The chair would recognize himself, first, for 12 minutes, vice chair for 12 minutes, based upon the agreement we have.
Director, did the Special Counsel’s Office review and/or edit your written testimony?
BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016
BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.
BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? COMEY: No.
BURR: Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?
COMEY: No doubt.
BURR: Are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered?
COMEY: I’m confident. By the time — when I left as director, I had seen no indication of that whatsoever.
BURR: Director Comey, did the president at any time ask you to stop the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections?
COMEY: Not to my understanding, no.
BURR: Did any individual working for this administration, including the Justice Department, ask you to stop the Russian investigation?
BURR: Director, when the president requested that you, and I quote, “let Flynn go,” General Flynn had an unreported contact with the Russians, which is an offense. And if press accounts are right, there might have been discrepancies between facts and his FBI testimony.
In your estimation, was General Flynn, at that time, in serious legal jeopardy? And in addition to that, do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice, or just seek for a way for Mike Flynn to save face, given he had already been fired?
COMEY: General Flynn, at that point in time, was in legal jeopardy. There was an open FBI criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the Russian contacts and the contacts themselves. And so that was my assessment at the time.
I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense.
BURR: Director, is it possible that, as part of this FBI investigation, the FBI could find evidence of criminality that is not tied to — to the 2016 elections — possible collusion or coordination with Russians?
BURR: So there could be something that just fits a criminal aspect to this that doesn’t have anything to do with the 2016 election cycle?
COMEY: Correct. In any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation, that are criminal in nature.
BURR: Director Comey, you have been criticized publicly for the decision to present your findings on the e-mail investigation directly to the American people. Have you learned anything since that time that would’ve changed what you said, or how you chose to inform the American people?
COMEY: Honestly, no. I mean, it caused a whole lot of personal pain for me, but, as I look back, given what I knew at the time and even what I’ve learned since, I think it was the best way to try and protect the justice institution, including the FBI.
BURR: In the public domain is this question of the Steele dossier, a document that has been around, now, for over a year. I’m not sure when the FBI first took possession of it, but the media had it before you had it and we had it.
At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?
COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation.
BURR: Director, the term we hear most often is “collusion.” When people are describing possible links between Americans and Russian government entities related to the interference in our election, would you say that it’s normal for foreign governments to reach out to members of an incoming administration?
BURR: At what point does the normal contact cross the line into an attempt to recruit agents or influence (ph) or spies?
COMEY: Difficult to say in the abstract. It depends upon the context, whether there’s an effort to keep it covert, what the nature of the requests made of the American by the foreign government are. It’s a — it’s a judgment call based on a whole lot of facts.
BURR: At what point would that recruitment become a counterintelligence threat to our country?
COMEY: Again, difficult to answer in the abstract. But when — when a foreign power is using especially coercion or some sort of pressure to try and co-opt an American, especially a government official, to act on its behalf, that’s a serious concern to the FBI and at the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence mission.
BURR: So if you’ve got a — a — a 36-page document of — of specific claims that are out there, the FBI would have to, for counterintelligence reasons, try to verify anything that might be claimed in there. One, and probably first and foremost, is the counterintelligence concerns that we have about blackmail. Would that be an accurate statement?
COMEY: Yes. If the FBI receives a credible allegation that there is some effort to co-opt, coerce, direct, employ covertly an American on behalf of the foreign power, that’s the basis on which a counterintelligence investigation is opened.
BURR: And when you read the dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100 percent directed at the president-elect?
COMEY: Not a question I can answer in an open setting, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: OK. When did you become aware of the cyber intrusion?
COMEY: The first cyber — it was all kinds of cyber intrusions going on all the time. The first Russia-connected cyber intrusion, I became aware of in the late summer of 2015.
BURR: And in that timeframe, there were more than the DNC and the DCCC that were targets.
COMEY: Correct. There was a massive effort to target government and nongovernmental — near-governmental agencies like nonprofits.
BURR: What would be the estimate of how many entities out there the Russians specifically targeted in that timeframe?
COMEY: It’s hundreds. I suppose it could be more than 1,000, but it’s at least hundreds.
BURR: When did you become aware that data had been exfiltrated?
COMEY: I’m not sure, exactly. I think either late ’15 or early ’16.
BURR: And did — did you, the director of the FBI, have conversations with the last administration about the risk that this posed?
BURR: And share with us, if you will, what actions they took.
COMEY: Well, the FBI had already undertaken an effort to notify all the victims — and that’s what we consider the entities that were attacked as part of this massive spear phishing campaign. And so we notified them in an effort to disrupt what might be ongoing.
Then there was a series of continuing interactions with entities through the rest of ’15 into ’16, and then, throughout ’16, the administration was trying to decide how to respond to the intrusion activity that it saw.
BURR: And the FBI, in this case, unlike other cases that you might investigate — did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked? Or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data that they had collected?
COMEY: In the case of the DNC, and, I believe, the DCCC, but I’m sure the DNC, we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work. But we didn’t get direct access.
BURR: But no content?
BURR: Isn’t content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?
COMEY: It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks — the people who were my folks at the time is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.
BURR: Let me go back, if I can, very briefly, to the decision to publicly go out with your results on the e-mail.
Was your decision influenced by the attorney general’s tarmac meeting with the former president, Bill Clinton?
COMEY: Yes. In — in an ultimately conclusive way, that was the thing that capped it for me, that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation, which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department.
BURR: Were there other things that contributed to that that you can describe in an open session?
COMEY: There were other things that contributed to that. One significant item I can’t, I know the committee’s been briefed on. There’s been some public accounts of it, which are nonsense, but I understand the committee’s been briefed on the classified facts.
Probably the only other consideration that I guess I can talk about in an open setting is, at one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me.
But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly.
BURR: Director, my last question: You’re not only a seasoned prosecutor, you’ve led the FBI for years. You understand the investigative process. You’ve worked with this committee closely, and we’re grateful to you because I think we’ve — we’ve mutually built trust in what your organization does and — and what we do.
Is there any doubt in your mind that this committee can carry out its oversight role in the 2016 Russian involvement in the elections in parallel with the — now — special counsel that’s been set up?
COMEY: No — no doubt. It can be done. It requires lots of conversations, but Bob Mueller is one of this country’s great, great pros. And I’m sure you all will be able to work it out with him to run it in parallel.
BURR: I want to thank you once again, and I want to turn to the vice chairman.
WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, again, Director Comey, thank you for your service.
And your comments to your FBI family, I know, were heartfelt. Know that, even though there are some in the administration who’ve tried to smear your reputation, you had Acting Director McCabe, in public testimony a few weeks back and in public testimony yesterday, reaffirm that the vast majority of the (ph) FBI community had great trust in your leadership and, obviously, trust in your integrity.
I want to go through a number of the meetings that you referenced in your testimony. And let’s start with the January 6th meeting in Trump Tower, where you went up with a series of officials to brief the president-elect on the Russia investigation. My understanding is you remained afterwards to brief him on, again, quote, “some personally sensitive aspects” of the information you relayed.
Now, you said, after that briefing, you felt compelled to document that conversation, that you actually started documenting it soon as you got into the car.
Now, you’ve had extensive experience at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. You’ve worked under presidents of both parties. What was it about that meeting that led you to determine that you needed to start putting down a written record?
COMEY: A combination of things, I think — the circumstances, the subject matter and the person I was interacting with. Circumstances first: I was alone with the president of the United States — or the president-elect, soon to be president.
The subject matter: I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the president — president-elect personally.
And then the nature of the person: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
That combination of things, I’d never experienced before, but it led me to believe I’ve got to write it down, and I’ve got to write it down in a very detailed way.
WARNER: I think that’s a very important statement you just made. And my understanding is that then, again, unlike your dealings with presidents of either parties in your past experience, in every subsequent meeting or conversation with this president, you created a written record.
Did you feel that you needed to create this written record or (ph) these memos because they might need to be relied on at some future date?
COMEY: Sure. I created records after conversations, and I think I did it after each of our nine conversations. If I didn’t, I did it for nearly all of them, especially the ones that were substantive.
I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and — and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function. That’s what made this so — so difficult, is it was a combination of circumstances, subject matter, and the particular person.
WARNER: And so, in all your experience, this was the only president that you felt like, in every meeting, you needed to document, because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting?
COMEY: That’s right, Senator.
And I — I — as I said in my written testimony, as FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years, and didn’t document it. When I was deputy attorney general, I had one one-on-one meeting with President Bush about a very important and difficult national security matter.
I didn’t write a memo documenting that conversation either — sent a quick e-mail to my staff to let them know there was something going on, but I didn’t feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way, again (ph), because of — the combination of those factors just wasn’t present with either President Bush or President Obama.
WARNER: I — I think that is very significant. I think others will probably question that.
Now, our chairman and I have requested those memos. It is our hope that the FBI will get this committee access to those memos so that, again, we can read that contemporaneous rendition, so that we’ve got your side of the story.
Now, I know members have said, and press has said, that if you were — a great deal’s been made of whether the president — you were asked to, in effect, indicate whether the president was the subject of any investigation.
And my understanding is, prior to your meeting on January 6th, you discussed with your leadership team whether or not you should be prepared to assure then President-Elect Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally.
Now, my understanding is your leadership team agreed with that. But was that a unanimous decision? Was there any debate about that?
COMEY: Was it unanimous? One of the members of the leadership team had a view that, although it was technically true, we did not have a counterintelligence file case open on then-President-elect Trump.
His concern was, because we’re looking at the potential — again, that’s the subject of the investigation — coordination between the campaign and Russia, because it was President Trump — President-elect Trump’s campaign, this person’s view was, inevitably, his behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work.
And so he was reluctant to make the statement that I made. I disagreed. I thought it was fair to say what was literally true: There is not a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump. And I decided, in the moment, to say it, given the nature of our conversation.
WARNER: At that moment in time, did you ever revisit that as a — in — in these subsequent sessions?
COMEY: With the FBI leadership team?
WARNER: With the team — with your (ph) team.
COMEY: Sure, and — and the — the leader who had that view — it didn’t change. His view was still that it was probably — although literally true, his concern was it could be misleading, because the nature of the investigation was such that it might well touch — obviously, it would touch the campaign, and the person at the head of the campaign would be the candidate. And so that was his view throughout.
WARNER: Let me move to the January 27th dinner, where you said, quote, “The president began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director. He also indicated that lots of people” — again, your words — “wanted the job.”
You go on to say that the dinner itself was seemingly an effort to, quote, “have you ask him for your job,” and create some sort of, quote/unquote, “patronage relationship.”
The president’s (ph) — seems, from my reading of your memo, to be holding your job, or your possibility of continuing in your job, over your head in a fairly direct way. What was your impression, and what did you mean by this notion of a patronage relationship? COMEY: Well, my impression — and, again, it’s my impression. I could always be wrong. But my common sense told me that what was going on is either he had concluded, or someone had told him, that you didn’t — you’ve already asked Comey to stay, and you didn’t get anything for it, and that the dinner was an effort to build a relationship — in fact, he asked specifically — of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
And, as I said, what was odd about that is we’d already talked twice about it by that point. And he’d said, I very much hope you’ll stay, I hope you’ll stay.
In fact, I just remembered, sitting here, a third one. When — you’ve seen the picture of me walking across the Blue Room. And what the president whispered in my ear was, “I really look forward to working with you.” So, after those encounters…
WARNER: And that was just a few days before you were fired.
COMEY: … yeah, that was on the 20 — the Sunday after the inauguration.
The next Friday, I have dinner, and the president begins by wanting to talk about my job. And so I’m sitting there, thinking, wait a minute, three times, we’ve already — you’ve already asked me to stay, or talked about me staying.
COMEY: And my common sense — again, I could be wrong, but my common sense told me what’s going on here is that he’s looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.
WARNER: And again, we all understand — I was a governor, I had people work for me. But this constant request — and, again, quoting you, him saying that he — despite you explaining your independence, he kept coming back to “I need loyalty.” “I expect loyalty.”
Had you ever had any of those kind of requests before, from anyone else you’d worked for in the government?
COMEY: No, and what made me uneasy was I’m, at that point, the director of the FBI. The reason that Congress created a ten-year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they’re serving at — with political loyalty owed to any particular person.
The — the statue of Justice has a blindfold on because you’re not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you’re doing.
It should be about the facts and the law. That’s why I was — that’s why I became FBI director: to be in that kind of position. So that’s why I was so uneasy.
WARNER: Well, let me — let me move on. My time’s running out. February 14th — again, it seems a bit strange. You were in a meeting. And your direct superior, the attorney general, was in that meeting, as well.
Yet the president asked everyone to leave, including the attorney general — to leave, before he brought up the matter of General Flynn. What was your impression of that type of action? Had you ever seen anything like that before?
COMEY: No. My impression was, something big is about to happen. I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And, again, I could be wrong, but I’m 56 years old. I’ve been — seen a few things.
My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which is why he was lingering. And I don’t know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.
WARNER: And I — I found it very interesting that, in the memo that you wrote after this February 14th pull-aside, you made clear that you wrote that memo in a way that was unclassified.
If you affirmatively made the decision to write a memo that was unclassified, was that because you felt, at some point, the facts of that meeting would have to come clean and come clear and actually be able to be cleared in a way that could be shared with the American people?
COMEY: Well, I remember thinking, this is a very disturbing development, really important to our work. I need to document it and preserve it in a way — and — and this committee gets this, but sometimes when things are classified, it tangles them up. It’s hard…
COMEY: … to share it within an investigative team. It’s — you have to be very careful about how you handle it, for good reason.
So my thinking was, if I write it in such a way that I don’t include anything that would trigger a classification, that’ll make it easier for us to discuss, within the FBI and the government, and to — to hold on to it in a way that makes it accessible to us.
WARNER: Well, again, it’s our hope, particularly since you’re a pretty knowledgeable guy and you wrote this in a way that was unclassified, that this committee will get access to that unclassified document. I think it’ll be very important to our investigation.
Let me just ask this in closing: How many ongoing investigations, at any time, does the FBI have going on?
COMEY: Tens of thousands.
WARNER: Tens of thousands. Did the president ever ask about any other ongoing investigation?
WARNER: Did he ever ask about you trying to interfere on any other investigation?
WARNER: I think, again, this speaks volumes. This doesn’t even get to the questions around the — the phone calls about lifting the cloud. I know other members will get to that, but I really appreciate your testimony and appreciate your service to our nation.
COMEY: Thank you, Senator Warner.
You know, I just — I’m sitting here, going through my contacts with him. I had one conversation with the president that was classified, where he asked about our — an ongoing intelligence investigation. It was brief and entirely professional.
WARNER: But he didn’t ask you to take any specific action on that…
COMEY: No, no.
WARNER: … unlike what he had done vis-a-vis Mr. Flynn and the overall Russia investigation?
WARNER: Thank you, sir.
BURR: Senator Risch?
RISCH: Thank you very much.
Mr. Comey, thank you for your service. America needs more like you, and we really appreciate it.
RISCH: Yesterday, I got, and everybody got, the seven pages of your direct testimony that’s now a part of the record, here. And the first — I read it, then I read it again, and all I could think was, number one, how much I hated the class of legal writing when I was in law school.
And you were the guy that probably got the A, after — after reading this. So I — I find it clear, I find it concise and, having been a prosecutor for a number of years and handling hundred — maybe thousands of cases and read police reports, investigative reports, this is as good as it gets.
And — and I really appreciate that — not only — not only the conciseness and the clearness of it, but also the fact that you have things that were written down contemporaneously when they happened, and you actually put them in quotes, so we know exactly what happened and we’re — and we’re not getting some rendition of it that — that’s in your mind. So…
COMEY: Thank you, Senator.
RISCH: … so you’re — you’re to be complimented for that.
COMEY: I had great parents and great teachers who beat that into me.
RISCH: That’s obvious, sir.
The — the chairman walked you through a number of things that — that the American people need to know and want to know. Number one, obviously we’re — all know about the active measures that the Russians have taken.
I think a lot of people were surprised at this. Those of us that work in the intelligence community didn’t — it didn’t come as a surprise. But now, the American people know this, and it’s good they know this, because this is serious and it’s a problem.
I — I think, secondly, I gather from all this that you’re willing to say now that, while you were director, the president of the United States was not under investigation. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: That’s correct.
RISCH: All right. So that’s a fact that we can rely at this…
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RISCH: … OK.
On — I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?
COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance…
COMEY: … communications. Yes, sir.
RISCH: And — and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether — whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?
COMEY: That’s correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But…
RISCH: I — I’m — I’m not going to any further than that with it.
RISCH: So thank you.
In addition to that, after that, you sought out both Republican and Democrat senators to tell them that, hey, I don’t know where this is coming from, but this is not the — this is not factual. Do you recall that?
RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don’t. The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on.
And those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it. And we don’t call the press to say, hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic. We just have to leave it there.
I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can’t go explaining how it’s nonsense.
RISCH: Thank you.
All right. So — so those three things, we now know, regarding the active measures, whether (ph) the president’s under investigation and the collusion between the — the Russian — the Trump campaign and the Russians.
I — I want to drill right down, as my time is limited, to the most recent dust-up regarding allegations that the president of the United States obstructed justice. And, boy, you nailed this down on page 5, paragraph 3. You put this in quotes — words matter.
You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There’s 28 words there that are in quotes, and it says, quote, “I hope” — this is the president speaking — “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.”
Now those are his exact words, is that correct?
RISCH: And you wrote them here, and you put them in quotes?
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go.
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go.
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: He said, “I hope.” Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases charging people with criminal offenses. And, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there that — where people have been charged.
Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where this — they said, or thought, they hoped for an outcome?
COMEY: I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, “I hope” this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.
COMEY: Now I — I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.
RISCH: You — you may have taken it as a direction, but that’s not what he said.
COMEY: Correct. I — that’s why…
RISCH: He said — he said, “I hope.”
COMEY: Those are exact words, correct.
RISCH: OK, do you (ph) — you don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: I don’t, as I sit here.
RISCH: Yeah. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Comey, I just want you to know that I have great respect for you. Senator Cornyn and I sit on the Judiciary Committee, so we have occasion to have you before us. And I know that you’re a man of strength and integrity, and I really regret the situation that we all find ourselves in. I just want to say that.
Let me begin with one overarching question. Why do you believe you were fired?
COMEY: Guess I don’t know for sure. I believe the — I take the president at his word, that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt, created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.
Again, I didn’t know that at the time, but I watched his interview, I’ve read the press accounts of his conversations. So I take him at his word there.
Now, look, I — I could be wrong. Maybe he’s saying something that’s not true. But I take him at his word, at least based on what I know now.
FEINSTEIN: Talk for a moment about his request that you pledge loyalty, and your response to that and what impact you believe that had.
COMEY: I — I don’t know for sure, because I don’t know the president well enough to read him well. I think it was — because our relationship didn’t get off to a great start, given the conversation I had to have on January 6th, this was not — this didn’t improve the relationship, because it was very, very awkward.
He was asking for something, and I was refusing to give it. But again, I don’t know him well enough to know how he reacted to that, exactly.
FEINSTEIN: Do you believe the Russia investigation played a role?
COMEY: In why I was fired?
FEINSTEIN: Yes. COMEY: Yes, because I’ve seen the president say so.
FEINSTEIN: OK. Let’s — let’s go to the Flynn issue.
Senator Risch outlined a — “I hope you could see your way (sic) to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
But you also said, in your written remarks, and I quote, that you 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,” end quote.
FEINSTEIN: Please go into that with more detail.
COMEY: Well, the — the context and the president’s words are what led me to that conclusion.
As I said in my statement, I could be wrong, but Flynn had been forced to resign the day before, and — and the controversy around General Flynn at that point in time was centered on whether he had lied to the vice president about the nature of his conversations with the Russians, whether he had been candid with others in the course of that.
And so that happens on the day before. On the 14th, the president makes specific reference to that. And so that’s why I understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn’s account of his conversations with the Russians.
FEINSTEIN: Now, here’s the question: You’re big. You’re strong. I know the Oval Office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn’t you stop and say, “Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you”?
COMEY: It’s a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just…
COMEY: … took it in. And the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind, because I could (ph) remember every word he said — I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that’s why I very carefully chose the words.
And, look, I — I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I — I remember saying, “I agree he’s a good guy,” as a way of saying, “I’m not agreeing with what you just asked me to do.”
Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that — that was — that’s how I conducted myself. I — I hope I’ll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better.
FEINSTEIN: You described two phone calls that you received from President Trump, one on March 30 and one on April 11, where he, quote, “described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability,” end quote, as president, and asked you, quote, “to lift the cloud,” end quote.
What — how did you interpret that? And what did you believe he wanted you to do?
COMEY: I interpreted that as he was frustrated that the Russia investigation was taking up so much time and energy, I — I think he meant, of the executive branch, but in the — in the public square in general, and it was making it difficult for him to focus on other priorities of his. But what he asked me was actually narrower than that.COMEY: So I think what he meant by the cloud, and again, I could be wrong, but what I think he meant by the cloud was the entire investigation is — is taking up oxygen and making it hard for me to focus on the things I want to focus on.
The ask was to get it out that I, the president, am not personally under investigation.
FEINSTEIN: After April 11th, did he ask you more, ever, about the Russia investigation? Did he ask you any questions?
COMEY: We never spoke again after April 11th.
FEINSTEIN: You told the president, I — I would see what we could do. What did you mean?
COMEY: Well, it (ph) was kind of a slightly cowardly way of trying to avoid telling him, we’re not going to do that — that I would see what we could do. It was a way of kind of getting off the phone, frankly. And then I turned and handed it to the acting deputy attorney general, Mr. Boente.
FEINSTEIN: So I wanted to go into that. Who did you talk with about that — lifting the cloud, stopping the investigation — back at the FBI, and what was their response?
COMEY: Well, the FBI, during one of the two conversations — I’m not remembering exactly. I think the first — my chief of staff was actually sitting in front of me, and heard my end of the conversation, because the president’s call was a surprise.
And I discussed the lifting the cloud and the request with the senior leadership team, who in — in — typically, and I think in all these circumstances, was the deputy director, my chief of staff, the general counsel, the deputy director’s chief counsel and, I think, in a number of circumstances, the number three in the FBI, and a few of the conversations included the head of the national security branch, so that group of us that lead the FBI when it comes to national security.
FEINSTEIN: OK. You have the president of the United States asking you to stop an investigation that’s an important investigation. What was the response of your colleagues?
COMEY: I think they were as shocked and troubled by it as I was. Some said things that led me to believe that. I don’t remember exactly, but the reaction was similar to mine. They’re all experienced people who had never experienced such a thing. So they were very concerned.
And then the conversation turned to about, so what should we do with this information? And that was a struggle for us, because we are the leaders of the FBI. So it’s been reported to us, in that I heard it and now I’ve shared it with the leaders of the FBI — our — our conversation was, should we share this with any senior officials at the Justice Department?
Our — our absolute primary concern was, we can’t infect the investigative team. We don’t want the agents and analysts working on this to know the president of the United States has — has asked — and when it comes from the president, I took it as a direction — to get rid of this investigation, because we’re not going to follow that — that request.
And so we decided we gotta keep it away from our troops. But is there anybody else we ought to tell at the Justice Department? And, as I laid out in my — in my statement, we considered whether to tell the attorney general, decided that didn’t make sense because we believed, rightly, that he was shortly going to recuse.
There were no other Senate-confirmed leaders in the Justice Department at that point. The deputy attorney general was Mr. Boente, who was acting and going to be shortly in that seat. And we decided the best move would be to hold it, keep it in a box, document it as we’d already done, and then this investigation’s going to go on — figure out what to do with it down the road.
Is there way to corroborate this? Our view, at the time, was, look, it’s your word against the president’s. There’s no way to corroborate this. That — my view of that changed when the prospect of tapes was raised, but that’s how we thought about it then.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Senator Rubio.
RUBIO: Thank you.
Director Comey, the meeting in the Oval Office where he made the request about Mike Flynn — was that the only time he asked you to hopefully let it go?
RUBIO: And in that meeting, as you understood it, that was — he was asking not about the general Russia investigation, he was asking very specifically about the jeopardy that Flynn was in himself?
COMEY: That’s how I understood it, yes, sir.
RUBIO: And as you perceived it, while it was a request that — he hoped you did away with it, you perceived it as an order, given his position, the setting and the like, and some of the circumstances?
RUBIO: At the time, did you say anything to the president about — that is not an appropriate request, or did you tell the White House counsel, that is not an appropriate request, someone needs to go tell the president that he can’t do these things?
COMEY: I didn’t, no.
RUBIO: OK. Why?
COMEY: I don’t know. I think the — as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such that it was — I was a bit stunned, and didn’t have the presence of mind.
And I don’t know — you know, I don’t want to make you — sound like I’m Captain Courageous. I don’t know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, “Sir, that’s wrong.” I don’t know whether I would have.
COMEY: But in the moment, it — it didn’t — it didn’t come to my mind. What came to my mind is, be careful what you say. And so I said, “I agree Flynn is a good guy.”RUBIO: So, on the cloud — we keep talking about this cloud — you perceived the cloud to be the Russian investigation in general, correct?
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RUBIO: But the specific ask was that you would tell the American people what you had already told him, what you had already told the leaders of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans: that he was not personally under investigation.
COMEY: Yes, sir, that’s how I…
RUBIO: In fact (ph), he was asking you to do what you have done here today.
COMEY: … correct. Yes, sir.
RUBIO: OK. And again, at that setting, did you say to the president that it would be inappropriate for you to do so, and then talk to the White House counsel or anybody so hopefully they would talk to him and tell him that he couldn’t do this?
COMEY: First time, I said, “I’ll see what we can do.” Second time, I explained how it should work, that the White House counsel should contact the deputy attorney general.
RUBIO: You told him that?
COMEY: The president said, OK, then I think that’s what I’ll do.
RUBIO: And just to be clear, for you to make a public statement that he was not under investigation would not have been illegal, but you felt it made no sense because it could potentially create a duty to correct, if circumstances changed?
COMEY: Yes, sir. We wrestled with it before my testimony where I confirmed that there was an investigation. And there were two primary concerns. One was it creates a duty to correct, which I’ve lived before, and you want to be very careful about doing that.
And second, it’s a slippery slope, because if we say the president and the vice president aren’t under investigation, what’s the principled basis for — for stopping?
RUBIO: OK. COMEY: And so the leadership at — at justice, Acting Attorney General Boente, said, “You’re not going to do that.”
RUBIO: Now, on March 30th, during the phone call about General Flynn, you said he abruptly shifted and brought up something that you call, quote, unquote, “the McCabe thing.” Specifically, the McCabe thing, as you understood it, was that McCabe’s wife had received campaign money from what I assume means Terry McAuliffe…
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RUBIO: … who (ph) was very close to the Clintons. And — and so why did you — had the president at any point in time expressed to you concern, opposition, potential opposition to McCabe? “I don’t like this guy because he got money from someone this close to Clinton?”
COMEY: He had asked me, during previous conversations, about Andy McCabe, and said, in essence, “How’s he going to be with me as president? I was pretty rough on them (ph) on the campaign trail.” And…
RUBIO: He was rough on McCabe?
COMEY: … he was — by his own account, he said he was rough on McCabe and Mrs. McCabe on the campaign trail — how’s he going to be? And I assured the president, Andy is a total pro. No issue at all. You got to know the people of the FBI, they are not…
RUBIO: So — so, when the president turns to you and says, “Remember, I never brought up the McCabe thing because you said he was a good guy,” did you perceive that to be a statement that — I took care of you, I — I didn’t do something because you told me he was a good guy. So now, you know, I’m asking you, potentially, for something in return? Is that how you perceived it?
COMEY: I wasn’t sure what to make of it, honestly. That’s possible, but it — it was so out of context that I didn’t have a clear view of what it was.
RUBIO: Now, on a number of occasions here, you bring up — let’s talk (ph) now about the general Russia investigation, OK? In page 6 of your testimony, you say — the first thing you say is, he asked what we could do to, quote/unquote, “lift the cloud,” the general Russia investigation.
And you responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to having done the work well. And he agreed. He reemphasized the problems it was causing him, but he agreed.
So, in essence, the president agreed with your statement that it would be great if we could have an investigation, all the facts came out and we found nothing. So he agreed that that would be ideal, but this cloud is still messing up my ability to do the rest of my agenda. Is that an accurate assessment of…
COMEY: Yes, sir. He actually went farther than that. He — he said, “And if some of my satellites did something wrong, it’d be good to find that out.”
RUBIO: Well, that’s the second part, and that is the satellites. He said, “If (ph) one of my satellites” — I imagine, by that, he meant some of the other people surrounding his campaign — “did something wrong, it would be great to know that, as well”?
COMEY: Yes, sir. That’s what he said.
RUBIO: So are those the other — are those the only two instances in which that sort of back-and-forth happened, where the president was basically saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s OK, do the Russia investigation. I hope it all comes out. I have nothing to do with anything Russia. It’d be great if it all came out, if people around me were doing things that were wrong.
COMEY: Yes. As I — I recorded it accurately there. That was the sentiment he was expressing. Yes, sir.
RUBIO: So what it basically (ph) comes down to is the president has asked three things of you. He asked for your loyalty, and you said you would be loyally honest.
COMEY: Honestly loyal.
RUBIO: Honestly loyal. The — the — he asked you, on one occasion, to let the Mike Flynn thing go because he was a good guy — but (ph) you’re aware that he said the exact same thing in the press the next day. “He’s a good guy,” “He’s been treated unfairly,” et cetera, et cetera. So I imagine your FBI agents read that.
COMEY: I’m sure they did.
RUBIO: Your — the president’s wishes were known to them, certainly, by the next day, when he had a press conference with the prime minister.