Comey Says Trump Pressured Him to ‘Lift the Cloud’ of Inquiry


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Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any such collaboration, and Mr. Comey confirmed that he told the president three times that he was not personally under investigation. Mr. Trump had encouraged Mr. Comey to say so publicly, but Mr. Comey refused — in part because he did not want to have to recant if that changed.

New York Times reporters analyze prepared remarks by James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, that were published Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud,’” Mr. Comey wrote after a March 30 phone call with Mr. Trump. “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.”

Many of the details in his testimony have been reported in recent weeks by The New York Times and other news organizations. But in addition to filling out Mr. Comey’s account, his remarks added to the chorus of questions about Mr. Trump’s efforts to torpedo the investigation — questions that senior national security officials refused to answer in a separate congressional hearing on Wednesday.

By asking that his remarks be released a day early, Mr. Comey also overshadowed the president’s announcement that he would nominate Christopher A. Wray to be the next F.B.I. director. And Mr. Comey surprised the White House, which had been preparing to defend against him, but not until Thursday.

“The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe,” Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, said in a statement. “The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”

Mr. Comey’s testimony chronicled a relationship that was strained from the beginning. At a meeting at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, two weeks before Inauguration Day, Mr. Comey briefed Mr. Trump on the contents of a dossier of salacious, unsubstantiated allegations that a former British spy believed the Russian government had collected on Mr. Trump. In that meeting, Mr. Comey assured Mr. Trump that F.B.I. agents were not investigating him personally, Mr. Comey said.

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Several are under scrutiny by the F.B.I. and Congress.

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“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo,” Mr. Comey said. “To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an F.B.I. vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting.”

That became Mr. Comey’s standard practice after his conversations with Mr. Trump. “This had not been my practice in the past,” Mr. Comey said, a sign of his unease with their conversations and of how unusual the situation was. Mr. Comey met alone just twice with President Barack Obama in more than three years as F.B.I. director.

Soon after Mr. Trump took office, he summoned Mr. Comey to the White House. Over dinner on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked whether Mr. Comey wanted to keep his job, an unexpected question because F.B.I. directors have 10-year terms, Mr. Trump had already asked him to stay and Mr. Comey had notified his work force that he would.

“My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship,” Mr. Comey wrote. “That concerned me greatly.”

Moments later, Mr. Comey wrote, the president told him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”

“I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Mr. Comey wrote. “We simply looked at each other in silence.”

OPEN Document

Document: Read James Comey’s Prepared Remarks for Testimony

While the F.B.I. is a component of the Justice Department, a part of the president’s cabinet, the bureau is generally regarded as independent, particularly on matters of law enforcement. Conversations between the F.B.I. and the White House are seen as so perilous that Justice Department rules strictly limit who can have them. Mr. Comey, in particular, regards himself as fiercely independent — a position he has staked out over the years to both his benefit and his detriment.

“I need loyalty,” Mr. Trump repeated.

“You will always get honesty from me,” Mr. Comey says he replied.

“That’s what I want,” Mr. Trump said. “Honest loyalty.”

Mr. Comey said he paused and said the president would have it. “I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further,” Mr. Comey wrote. “The term — honest loyalty — had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.”

After an Oval Office meeting on terrorism a few weeks later, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to stay behind to talk. Mr. Trump said he wanted to talk about Michael T. Flynn, who had resigned as national security adviser a day earlier and was under investigation over his foreign ties.

“He is a good guy and has been through a lot,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Comey’s testimony. He added: “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.”

Video

What Congress Will Ask James Comey

The New York Times reporter Matt Apuzzo explains what James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, can expect to be asked when he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

By A.J. CHAVAR, MATT APUZZO and ROBIN STEIN on Publish Date June 7, 2017. Photo by Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Mr. Trump’s intent is important. Some in Congress believe Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the F.B.I. investigation, and the newly appointed special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has the authority to investigate obstruction.

For Mr. Comey, though, the meaning was clear. “I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn,” he said.

Mr. Comey told senior F.B.I. officials about the meeting but withheld it from the agents conducting the investigation. The F.B.I. did not drop the case, and Mr. Mueller is investigating both Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

On March 30, Mr. Comey said, he received a call in his office from the president. “He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country,” Mr. Comey wrote. Mr. Trump denied many of the sensational and unverified claims in the dossier, including any involvement with Russian prostitutes. He encouraged Mr. Comey to “lift the cloud” by saying publicly that he was not under investigation. Mr. Comey did not do so.

Finally, on April 11, Mr. Trump called him again and renewed his request. Mr. Comey said he encouraged the White House counsel to call the Justice Department, following the rules.

Mr. Trump said he would and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing, you know.” Mr. Comey said he did not ask the president what he meant by “that thing.”

“That was the last time I spoke with President Trump,” Mr. Comey said.

View the original article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/us/politics/james-comey-statement-testimony.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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