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Comey to Congress: President Trump told him ‘I need loyalty’

ERIC TUCKER AND JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Jun 8th, 2017

0608-ukelection

Former FBI Director James Comey will testify that President Donald Trump sought his “loyalty” and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” of investigation shadowing his White House, according to prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Comey will also tell lawmakers that he informed Trump that he was not personally under investigation, validating the president’s previous claims that he was not the target of the probe into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Comey will say that the FBI and Justice Department were reluctant to state that publicly “because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”

Comey’s testimony will be his first public comments since Trump abruptly fired him on May 9. The seven-page remarks released Wednesday reveal in dramatic detail, and with a writer’s flair, Comey’s uneasiness with Trump, who he believed was disregarding the FBI’s traditional independence from the White House.

Until his firing, Comey oversaw the federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s associates and Russia. Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey outraged Democrats, who believe he was improperly trying to halt a probe that has hung over his presidency since his first day in office.

The former director’s testimony is based on written memos of his interactions with Trump, some of which he says he shared with senior FBI leadership. Comey describes at length a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which he believed Trump asked him to drop any investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

“He then said, ‘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,’” Comey says, according to the prepared remarks. “I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.’”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unsure if the president had reviewed Comey’s testimony. Asked whether the president stood by earlier assertions that he had neither sought Comey’s loyalty nor asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, she said: “I can’t imagine the president not standing by his own statement.”

Sanders referred specific questions to Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump announced that he planned to nominate Christopher Wray, a former Justice Department official, as Comey’s successor. FBI directors are nominated for 10-year terms.

Comey’s testimony was released by the Senate intelligence committee hours after lawmakers sparred with top intelligence chiefs who refused to answer the panel’s questions about conversations they had with Trump regarding the Russia probe. Intelligence committee members wanted to know about news reports claiming Trump had asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump allies have sought to undermine Comey’s credibility ahead of his testimony, noting that the FBI had to correct some of his remarks from his last appearance on Capitol Hill. They’ve also questioned why Comey did not raise his concerns about Trump publicly or resign.

Among the encounters Comey describes is a Jan. 27 dinner at the White House that he viewed as an attempt by the president to “create some sort of patronage relationship.”

According to Comey, Trump asked if he wanted to remain as FBI director and declared: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” Comey says he replied that he could offer his honesty, and that when Trump said he wanted “honest loyalty,” Comey paused and said, “You will get that from me.”

In March, after Comey had publicly revealed the existence of a federal counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump complained that the probe had left a “cloud” that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”

It was during that conversation that Comey said the president asked him what could be done to “lift the cloud” of investigation that was damaging his administration. Comey said Trump also 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” – referencing an unverified intelligence dossier detailing compromising information Moscow allegedly had collected on the president.

The White House initially said Trump fired Comey on the recommendation of the Justice Department, citing as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump later said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey and would have dismissed him without the Justice Department’s input.

Comey said his practice of keeping written meeting records began after his encounter with Trump before the inauguration. He said he did not keep records of the two private, in-person interactions he had with President Barack Obama between the time he took the helm at the FBI in September 2013 and the end of the 44th president’s tenure.

Comey describes nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months.

Here are 10 highlights from text of the opening remarks, in chronological order:

– Comey says he first met Trump on Jan. 6 to brief him on the contents of a salacious dossier. Gathered by an ex-British spy, it said the Russians had compromising material on Trump. Comey said he felt it was not only important to keep Trump in the loop, but also to spread the word and weaken the ability of the Russians to use it as blackmail.

– Comey explains how an FBI counter-intelligence investigation differs from a criminal one. He says it can be about turning a compromised American into a double agent; alerting Russian targets; protecting computer systems; or, in some cases, laying criminal charges.

– He assured Trump several times that he was not personally targeted in the counter-intelligence investigation: “We did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him.”

– Comey started making notes on his meetings with Trump, the moment he left their first encounter: “I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past (with Barack Obama).”

– Trump invited him to dinner on Jan. 27: “The president said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression … during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner. … The president returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay. … He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ … It is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently.”

– In an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, Trump dismissed everyone from the room. “When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the president began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn’.“ They discussed Flynn’s firing as national security adviser. Trump said he hadn’t done anything wrong, but had to be let go because he’d misled the vice-president about chats with the Russians. Trump said: “‘He is a good guy and has been through a lot … 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 replied only that ‘he is a good guy.’ … I did not say I would ‘let this go’.“

– Comey was concerned. “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. … It was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

– Comey said he was asked to ‘lift the cloud’: “(Trump) 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. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ I 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 our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.”

– Trump wanted the world to know he wasn’t a target: “He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out’.“ Comey said the FBI and Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements, to avoid having to publicly correct them later should the situation change.

– The president appeared to threaten him in their last phone call on April 11: “(Trump said), ‘I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ … That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”

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