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Sacked FBI director Comey says Trump told him to let Flynn probe go

Fired FBI director James Comey said in a statement ahead of his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee that US President Donald Trump had told him “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty”.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2017 16:07 IST
Yashwant Raj
A combination photo shows US President Donald Trump (L) in the House of Representatives in Washington on February 28, 2017 and FBI director James Comey in Washington US on July 7, 2016.
A combination photo shows US President Donald Trump (L) in the House of Representatives in Washington on February 28, 2017 and FBI director James Comey in Washington US on July 7, 2016. (Reuters File Photo)

Former FBI director James Comey will tell a congressional panel on Thursday that Donald Trump had told him he was not involved with Russian “hookers”, had nothing to do with Russia and had asked him how he could help “lift the cloud” cast on his presidency by the ongoing probe.

His opening statement, released on Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee at which he is to testify, threw up few new revelations but gave details of his interactions with the president from their first meeting in Trump Tower in Manhattan in January.

But Comey’s testimony also confirmed that he did indeed tell Trump that he was personally not under investigation, something that the president repeated in his own defence as well as in the letter the former FBI director received when he was dismissed.

Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who is leading the president’s defence in the Russia probe from outside the White House, pounced on this part of Comey’s opening remarks to say that the president was “pleased that Mr Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russia probe”.

“The president feels completely and totally vindicated.”

Not about the full statement surely. Comey disputed the president’s account of their interactions a few times — their dinner meeting on January 27 was not sought by Comey as Trump had indicated, and Comey did not want to know if Trump wanted him to continue as FBI director. Trump turned it into a job interview pressing him for his “loyalty”.

New revelations, however, could come up during questioning by members of the committee, who gave a peak into their thinking at another hearing on Wednesday, when director of national intelligence Dan Coats and national security agency head Mike Rogers faced remarkably hostile grilling on the Russia probe.

Some members said they thought the two spy chief were not being forthcoming about their own meetings and interactions with Trump. Comey, on the other hand, is likely to be less reticent talking about his own contacts with the man who fired him and then called him a “nut job” and a “showboat”.

Comey will discuss his conversation with Trump about Michael Flynn, just the day after Trump fired his first national security adviser for misleading the White House about his interactions with Russians. Trump had asked Comey to “let this go”, referring to FBI’s Flynn probe.

That confirms earlier reporting about the conversation that took place in the Oval Office on February 14. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey wrote using notes he kept of all his conversations with the president. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey began keeping notes of interactions with Trump after their first meeting on January 6 when he, along with other intelligence chiefs, met the then president-elect in Trump Tower to brief him on the Russia probe and some “salacious and unverified” personal information that had come up.

It was probably in reference to this “salacious and unverified” information that was published by some US media outlets that Trump sought to reassure Comey in a phone call in March, as described by the former FBI director: “He 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”.

This was, Comey noted, the last of his nine interactions with the president in the four months he served in his administration — three face-to-face meetings and six phone calls — which the former FBI director felt the need, for some reason, to compare to just two he had with President Barack Obama, the man who appointed him, and with no phone calls.