Former FBI Director James Comey said President Donald Trump asked him to drop the agency’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“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 said Trump told him in an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14.
Comey also confirmed what the president has previously said — that the former FBI director told Trump he was not under invetigation as part of the Russia-related probe.
Trump had asked for Flynn’s resignation the day before, following revelations that the former national security adviser misled Vice President Mike Pence regarding his phone conversations Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December during the transition.
In office just 24 days, Flynn is under FBI investigation for alleged ties to Russia and possible collusion with Moscow during the presidential election. Comey’s testimony appears to confirm news reports that Trump personally requested the FBI chief halt the investigation, and the former FBI chief said he did not tell Trump he would “let this go.”
“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,” Comey said in prepared testimony ahead of Thursday’s hearing in the Senate. “I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.”
Comey said he “could be wrong” about that interpretation of Trump’s comments. He said he kept details of the incident “closely held” because he did not want to “infect the investigative team” with Trump’s request.
In response to news reports of Trump’s request Comey drop the investigation into Flynn, administration officials wondered why Comey had not informed Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the interaction if he was so concerned about it. Comey said he did not tell Sessions because he expected the attorney general to recuse himself from the Russia probe, which he did two weeks later.
The Russia scandal has gripped Washington, and the city is on the edge of its seat in anticipation of Comey’s first public appearance since Trump fired him last month. Repeated, explosive media reports of Comey’s interactions with the president— many with anonymous sourcing — have left Capitol Hill and the media eager to hear Comey’s version of events directly. Network television stations will live broadcast the hearing.
In the prepared testimony published by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey said he offered Trump assurance he was not personally being investigated by the FBI at least three times.
Comey’s testimony also aligns with news reports that Trump demanded the FBI director’s loyalty during a private dinner.
Comey said he told then-president-elect Trump on Jan. 6 in a briefing in Trump Tower that Trump himself was not being investigated. Before that meeting, he spoke with the FBI’s leadership team about whether he should tell Trump the agency was not investigating him.
“That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted,” Comey said. “During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.”
Comey said he felt the need to document this interaction with Trump and began writing a memo describing the interaction “in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting.” The former FBI director said he created written records for all interactions he had with Trump from then on, a practice he said he did not keep with former President Barack Obama.
Comey said he recalled nine one-on-one conversations with the president in four months. Three were in person and six were on the phone. Comey details five of the interactions in his testimony.
Comey also detailed a dinner on Jan. 27 during which Trump told him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” The former FBI director said he feared Trump had set up the encounter to “create some sort of patronage relationship.”
Comey said he told the president “You will always get honesty from me.”
According to Comey, Trump told him he was considering ordering an investigation into the salacious allegations the FBI director had briefed him on in the Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower. Comey then reassured Trump for a second time the president was not personally under investigation.
“He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen,” Comey said. “I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative.”
Trump has asserted multiple times that Comey told him repeatedly that he was not under investigation. Trump did not provide specifics about those alleged conversations.
Trump fired Comey in early May, and his administration first said it was due to how Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Trump then said in a subsequent interview that he had fired Comey because of how the Russia investigation is being handled. The president frequently calls the story “fake news” and “made up.”
During a phone call on March 30, Comey said he told Trump for a third time he was not personally under investigation. The president expressed displeasure at Comey’s congressional testimony the prior week confirming the FBI was investigating possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, and asked the former director what he could do to help “lift the cloud” of the investigation.
“I did not tell the president that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change,” Comey said.