WASHINGTON – Testifying under oath before the Senate Intelligence committee Thursday morning, James Comey submitted remarks confirming the key assertion made repeatedly by President Trump that he had not pressured the former FBI director to drop the Russia investigation.
Comey confirmed another Trump contention repeatedly made by the president, that the former FBI director had told him three times that he was not under investigation.
Advertisement - story continues below
Those were the major revelations in Comey's testimony, his first public comments since Trump fired him from his position as FBI director on May 9.
The testimony appeared to vindicate the president's confidence his version of events would prevail when he announced Monday that he would not invoke executive privilege to prevent Comey from testifying.
While the hearing was in progress, Trump addressed the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual conference and said he and his supporters "are under siege" but "will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever."
Advertisement - story continues below
The president said "entrenched interests" in Washington "will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right."
He added, "We know the truth will prevail," and "Nothing worth doing ever came easy."
Multiple commentators anticipated Comey's remarks would show the president attempted to obstruct justice by asking the former FBI director to shut down the bureau's investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump associates.
CNN had reported Comey would testify that Trump tried to pressure him into dropping the investigation. CNN also reported Comey would deny having told Trump he was not under investigation.
But that was not what happened.
Advertisement - story continues below
Comey actually appeared to indicate the president encouraged the investigation because it was important to learn if any of his associates had, in fact, colluded with Russians.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asked Comey if he got the impression Trump had asked him, "'[I]f there are people in my circle that are (colluding with Russia)', let's finish the investigation, is that how you took it?"
"Yes, sir. Yes," replied the former FBI chief.
Advertisement - story continues below
Comey also debunked a Feb. 14, report from the New York Times that stated, "Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials."
The former FBI chief said, "In the main, it was not true."
In his opening statement, Comey confirmed published reports that during a private conversation in the White House on Feb. 14, he and the president had a discussion about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whom Trump had fired the day before.
The former director recalled Trump 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."
Reports published in the mainstream media had claimed Comey took that as a sign that the president was trying to pressure him into dropping the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and whether any of Trump's associates colluded with Moscow.
Some even thought, and many Democrats hoped, Comey would claim he believed the president had tried to obstruct justice.
When asked point-blank by chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., if he felt the president had attempted to obstruct justice, Comey replied that was not for him to say. He later said that was the job of special counsel Robert Mueller.
However, in his opening remarks, submitted in written form, the former FBI director made clear he did not think the president was trying to interfere in the investigation or pressure him to drop it.
"I had understood," Comey testified, "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."
"I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign," he continued. "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."
Watch the video of the entire hearing:
Comey did add, "Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency."
However, he admitted he did not report the remarks to the attorney general. And Comey claimed he did not report the president's comments to FBI investigators because he was concerned it might have a chilling effect on them.
Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, about his private discussion with Trump about Flynn, and if it made him uncomfortable, she wondered, "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong?'"
"That's a great question," Comey replied. "Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation I just took it in."
The former FBI chief admitted to what investigators might see as his own interference in the Russia investigation: using a friend to leak a memo to the New York Times describing his conversation with Trump about Flynn, with the explicit hope it would trigger the appointment of a special counsel.
Comey said he decided to do that after Trump had tweeted the former FBI director had better hope there were no tapes of their discussions.
The former FBI chief testified, "[M]y judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. 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. So I asked a close friend of mine to do it."
Columbia law professor Daniel Richman confirmed he leaked the memo to the Times.
When asked by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., what gave him the legal authority to leak the memo, Comey replied: "As a private citizen, I felt free to share that. I thought it was very important to get it out."
However, as legal analysts have point out, that memo could be considered evidence in the investigation, and leaking it could land Comey in hot water.
As WND is reporting, legal scholar and George Washington University Law School Jonathan Turley wrote, "those memos could be viewed as a government record and potential evidence in a criminal investigation."
"Besides being subject to Nondisclosure Agreements," Turley explained, "Comey falls under federal laws governing the disclosure of classified and nonclassified information. Assuming that the memos were not classified (though it seems odd that it would not be classified even on the confidential level), there is 18 U.S.C. § 641 which makes it a crime to steal, sell, or convey 'any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof.'"
Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz said, "we will leave it the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leaks should be investigated along with all those others being investigated."
During the hearing, Comey also described Trump's requests for the FBI to "lift the cloud" coming from the unsubstantiated allegations about collusion with Russia.
"I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could," recalled Comey.
He said he could not discuss Flynn's interactions with Russians in an open hearing.
The New York Times has reported the FBI concluded in December that Flynn did not discuss anything inappropriate with the Russian ambassador during the transition period before Trump took office. But the president fired Flynn for not telling the whole truth about the conversations to Vice President Mike Pence.
During the hearing, Comey revealed there was an inquiry into whether Flynn possibly misled FBI agents.
The fired FBI director also delivered a few broadsides directly at his former boss.
Comey bristled over the explanation Trump had given for his dismissal, saying, "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."
He said the president's assertions that FBI agents had lost confidence in him and that he had mismanaged the bureau "were lies, plain and simple."
Comey also claimed he took notes of their meetings because, "I was honestly concerned he might lie about our meeting."
During a press conference while the hearing was in progress, reporters asked deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if the president was a liar.
"No, I can definitively say the president is not a liar," she replied, adding, "I think it's frankly insulting that the question would be asked."
Comey testified, following his discussion with Trump regarding Flynn, he expressed concerns about that private encounter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and requested the president not meet with him one-on-one again.
However, Comey admitted he continued to speak to the president one-on-one during subsequent phone calls. Asked what the difference was between a phone call and an in-person meeting, he didn't answer directly, but said he told the attorney general it was important that "you be between me and the White House."
The former director also claimed he had advised the president that any statement that he was not under investigation should come from the Justice Department, not from the FBI director.
Comey did acknowledge, however, it was "literally true," that Trump was not a target of the FBI's counter-intelligence investigation.
The former FBI chief said he did think his firing was an attempt by Trump to change how the Russia investigation was being handled.
Although he did not think so initially, after he heard the president interviewed by NBC, Comey came to believe, "I was fired because of the Russia investigation."
"I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted," he asserted.
However, Comey also admitted that if Trump had wanted to stop the investigation he, or the attorney general, could have simply ordered it to be closed.
The former FBI chief also claimed the president asked him to declare his loyalty to Trump. According to an AP report, the president has denied that.
Comey also delivered a broadside directed at the Obama administration.
He said he was unnerved and got "a queasy feeling" when former Attorney General Loretta Lynch told him to describe the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email system and possible security breaches as a "matter" rather than an "investigation."
Comey said he was afraid that would look too similar to how the Clinton presidential campaign was describing the probe as a "security concern" when it was, in fact, a criminal investigation.
The former director noted that when he did refer to it as a "matter" the press merely ignored the terminology and reported it as an investigation.
He also said he did not know if he would have been fired had Clinton been elected president.
But the main focus of the hearing was on the current president and the Russia investigation.
Asked directly if he believed Trump colluded with Russia, Comey replied, "It's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting," while adding he was not trying to imply anything nefarious by the president. Comey said the same was true regarding the president's associates. A closed hearing immediately followed the public session.
When Lankford asked about the accuracy of media reports of Russia and collusion, Comey said "many" reports have been "dead wrong."
At a press conference on May 18, Trump said the entire investigation into collusion with Russia "has been a witch hunt."
“And there is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign – but I can always speak for myself – and the Russians,” he said. "Zero.”
WND reported last month that it was President Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, who prompted the investigation into claims the Trump campaign had inappropriate contacts with the Russian government.
Brennan admitted to the House Intelligence Committee during testimony on May 30 that he instigated the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia even though he had seen no evidence of that.
Brennan claimed he had seen some contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, and he was worried that might lead to collusion. So he referred the matter to the FBI, which launched an investigation.
As WND has reported repeatedly, top Democrats have all admitted investigators have not found any evidence of any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or administration.
Feinstein, who serves on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, twice said she had seen no such evidence. Other Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have said they don’t expect to find any evidence of collusion.
Fierce Trump critic Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has had to admit there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Obama’s own former top spies, Brennan, director of national intelligence James Clapper, as well as former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, have all said they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
As a side note, Wall Street apparently liked what it heard during Comey's testimony. The Dow Jones hit an all-time high during the hearing.