The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a transcript of former FBI Director James Comey’s open statement ahead of his hearing Thursday. The statement is seven pages and it has already been dissected by over-zealous Beltway pundits with predictable eagerness.
The Daily Wire has reviewed the statement with clear-eyed scrutiny so you don’t have to. Here are five things you need to know about Comey’s testimony:
1. Comey said that he never felt pressured by President Trump with regard to the overall Russia-Trump campaign collusion investigation. Trump never tried to actively block investigation or obstruct justice, according to the fired FBI director. In effect, the FBI was able to move forward with the investigation in a routine way. While Comey admitted that Trump asked him to consider “letting go” of the FBI probe into Trump campaign official and former National Security advisor Michael Flynn, the ex-FBI director asserted that he didn’t take that to mean that Trump was trying to shut down the entire investigation. “I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign,” said Comey. As The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro explains, nothing that Comey has said suggests that Trump even attempted to obstruct justice. “Again, this is damning for Trump, but not nearly as damning as the press would like it to be,” observes Shapiro, adding: "It sounds like Comey was concerned about Trump stepping on his investigation into Flynn’s phone conversation, not into the 2016 election. That means there is still no evidence that Trump cares about quashing an investigation into campaign collusion, even according to Comey."
“[This] isn’t illegal, and it isn’t obstruction, and it isn’t even pressure. But that’s not how the press will play it,” concludes Shapiro.
2. Comey corroborated recent reporting suggesting that Trump demanded a loyalty pledge from him. “According to Comey, he spoke with Trump one-on-one nine separate times in four months, ‘three in person and six on the phone,’" notes Shapiro. “Comey mentioned the January 27 dinner at which Trump supposedly asked for Comey’s assurance once again that he was not under investigation, and received it, and at which Trump suggested that Comey asked to retain his job. Comey claimed that Trump asked him for a loyalty oath during the dinner.”
Below is an excerpt of Comey’s statement detailing his January 27 meeting with Trump. It was then that the president first asked for the then-FBI director's "loyalty."
It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks. The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away. 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. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch. I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President. A few moments later, the President said, “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. 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. At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work. Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. 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.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term — honest loyalty — had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.
Key takeaway here is Trump telling Comey: "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." It sounds like something a 1920's mob boss would say to his underling. Phrases like "abuse of power" definitely come to mind here.
As Comey recounted, his last meeting with Trump featured similar talk of “loyalty.”
“I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know,” Trump told Comey on April 11, according to the ex-FBI director’s statement. Comey says that he didn’t know what “that thing” was and didn’t bother to ask. This cryptic statement will likely raise a lot of eyebrows during Comey’s hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
3. Comey said that Trump wanted him to expedite the FBI investigation because it was placing a “cloud” over his administration and affected his abilities to make good “deals” for America. This account aligns neatly with what we know about Trump’s obsession with his public image and his refrain of making good “deals.”
“[Trump] finished by stressing ‘the cloud’ that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated,” Comey says, recalling a March 30 phone call he had with the president.
4. Comey suggested that he was wary of Trump after their very first meeting. While Comey is known to be an avid note taker, he admitted that he had never meticulously documented his communications and meetings before Trump.
“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo,” said Comey, adding:
To ensure accuracy, 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.
Comey contrasted his relationship with Trump to his more professional, and perhaps even more amicable relationship with former President Obama. Here’s Comey again:
I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) — once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months — three in person and six on the phone.
5. Comey said that many of his conversations with Trump, particularly those about Flynn, made him feel deeply uncomfortable due to the perception that the president appeared to be encroaching on the independence of the FBI. Trump had one too many one on-one meetings with Comey for Comey’s liking. From the private dinner at the White House on January 27 to the Oval Office meeting on counter-terrorism on Feburary 14, where Trump allegedly kicked other intelligence and administration officials out of the room to speak to the then-FBI director alone, Comey stated that the president used his private meetings with him to make inappropriate requests and have “awkward” conversations that defied basic norms of government administration.
Here’s Comey’s account of his February 14 meeting with Trump:
He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. 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.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.” The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President. 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. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. 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. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.
These seemingly inappropriate meetings eventually led Comey to bring up the matter with Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Comey recalled:
I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened — him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind — was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.
As Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes explains, such behavior by the president of the United States is far from normal, if not unprecedented. Wittes writes:
It’s hard to express to people who are not steeped in federal law enforcement just how inappropriate these inquiries are, particularly when they involve an investigation in which the President has such deep and multifaceted personal stakes. No, they are not illegal. The President, after all, has constitutional authority to ask for whatever information he wants from his subordinates in the executive branch. But of course, the President also has the authority to give the State of the Union address in Latin and have it consist entirely of obscenities directed at the Speaker of the House. To people who know the norms of federal law enforcement, the conduct described here is closer to that end of the spectrum of presidential behavior than it is to the normal range.