President Donald Trump repeatedly tried to convince an uneasy James Comey to drop, or redirect, pieces of the Russian election case, calling it "a cloud" over his already-troubled administration, according to statements the fired FBI director is expected to deliver Thursday.
But Comey also told Trump he was not personally under investigation.
The revelations come in seven pages of prepared testimony Comey will deliver Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Comey’s remarks read like a sometimes damning memoir with Trump as the central figure as he describes in detail his three meetings and two phone conversations with the president.
While it has plenty of the bombshells Trump’s critics had eagerly anticipated, and is likely to give them fresh ammunition against the president, it also gives Republicans reason to cheer.
The news that Trump was not personally being investigated confirmed Trump's claims, and would now give the White House political breathing room, some argued.
The committee’s eight Republicans and seven Democrats plan to question Comey, probably for about three hours, in an open session. Then it will go into a private meeting with the former FBI director. Afterward, the panel will continue its investigation, a probe likely to last for months.
The investigation began at the FBI in July, 2016, as a look into an effort by Russian operatives to boost Trump and discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a long-time antagonist for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In March, Comey described the FBI probe as a counter-intelligence investigation. After Comey was fired and Special Counsel Robert Mueller was put in charge, members of Congress said they believed it has now turned into a criminal investigation.
One of the issues members of Congress have said the investigation is now pursuing is whether Trump or his associates obstructed the investigation in any way. Comey’s testimony is the strongest evidence yet in that direction.
Still, not everyone agreed about the significance of Comey’s prepared remarks.
"This is not as dramatic or damaging as the liberals who hate Donald Trump want it to be, and it in fact validates Donald Trump's core claim, which is, Comey told him three times he wasn't under investigation," said GOP strategist Scott Jennings, who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "Read the testimony, you can count: One, two, three."
The Republican National Committee blasted out images of those portions of Comey's prepared remarks.
But other Republicans—not to mention Democrats—had a dramatically different interpretation, saying Comey's remarks showed that Trump's behavior toward law enforcement was wildly inappropriate, undermining the president's credibility.
"It confirms how little respect the president has for the rule of law and the independence of our law enforcement agencies," said Mindy Finn, a veteran GOP campaign operative who ran against Trump on an independent ticket with Evan McMullin last year.
Comey leaves no doubt that the conversations with Trump made him uneasy. He refers to the president’s approaches as "inappropriate" and wrote that a dinner in the Green Room at the White House on Jan. 27 left him with the impression that the meeting was an "effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship."
During that meeting, the president allegedly said: “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
Comey’s reaction is one of intense uncertainty.
“I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” he said.
He said that his concerns led him to change his approach to presidential meetings. He noted only two meetings with President Barack Obama between taking charge of the FBI in 2013 and the end of his term in January.
But after his first meeting on Jan. 6 with Trump, Comey said that "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."
He didn’t say why he began creating such records; that is expected to come up Thursday.
The Comey testimony shows how, after telling the president he was not under investigation, Trump wanted him to "get that fact out."
Comey noted that he "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."
Trump remained concerned. Comey relates a March 30 phone conversation in which Trump described the Russia investigation as "a cloud" that was "impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country."
During that conversation, Comey’s statements show that the president insisted "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.’"
After reading the testimony, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and one of the more prominent voices on the House Intelligence Committee, said Comey “confirms a host of troubling allegations concerning the President's conduct.”
In particular, Schiff said he was disturbed that “the President sought to obtain a pledge of loyalty” from Comey, and that he’d asked for the investigation of Flynn to be dropped.
Comey relates two relevant in-person meetings at the White House. The first was a dinner for which Trump told Comey he "was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time."
"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," he wrote. "That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch."
The second White House meeting was in the Oval Office on Feb. 14. The meeting took place a day after Trump had dismissed his Flynn.
Flynn is known to have had several contacts with Russian officials, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and to have accepted more than $30,000 for a speech in Moscow for the RT Russian television network, which the American intelligence community has labeled a propaganda arm of the Russian government.
Comey described the meeting: Trump "sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General and I were in the semi-circle of chairs.”
“I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs."
As the meeting was ending, Comey said Trump told the others to leave. "He wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair."
Comey wrote that "as the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the president thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me."
Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is a senior White House adviser.
Comey said that as the "door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone" the president said "I want to talk about Mike Flynn."
"The president began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify."
Finally, Comey writes about a phone conversation on "the morning of April 11, (when) the President called me."
He said that the president asked him "what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation."
Comey said he had passed the request to the acting Deputy Attorney General. He said the conversation led to him suggesting to the president that the proper course in the future was that "the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of (the Department of Justice) to make the request, which was the traditional channel."
Comey wrote that Trump then said: "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know."
Comey said that the president did not explain, and he did not ask, what "that thing" was. He then ended his written testimony by noting, "That was the last time I spoke with President Trump."