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Ex-FBI director James Comey accuses Trump administration of defaming him, ‘lies’

James Comey said he was confused by “the shifting explanations” given by the Trump administration for his firing on May 9.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2017 23:39 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
James Comey,Donald Trump,FBI
Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in Washington.(AP Photo)

Fired FBI director James Comey told a US senate committee at a much anticipated public hearing on Thursday that President Donald Trump and others in the White House had lied about the reasons for his firing and had sought to defame him and the investigating agency he had then headed.

But Comey was very clear, and repeatedly so in oral remarks and written testimony released on Wednesday, that Trump was never under investigation personally, as the president has stated multiple times. Not before, or, Comey added, at the time of his stunning and abrupt dismissal on May 9.

Comey confirmed a lot of the previously known details about his conversations with the president, and gave new details but made few, if any, major revelations in his oral testimony till the writing of this report, or in the written testimony he had submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier, speaking publicly for the first time since his firing, the circumstances leading up to it and his interactions with Trump.

In his opening oral remarks Comey said although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, “the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader”.

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” he added.

Asked by a senator why, he thought, he was fired, Comey said, “I don’t know for sure. I take the president’s word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. He apparently felt it created pressure on him he wanted to relieve. I take him at his word.”

He added: “My judgment (is) that I was fired because of Russia investigation—to change way investigation is being conducted. That is a big deal because of nature of FBI, which must not be subject of political consideration.”

In response to questions about his memos — the contemporaneous written notes he kept of all his one-on-one conversations with Trump (nine in all, three face-to-face meetings and six phone conversations) — the former FBI director reflected deep distrust of the president.

“The nature of Trump … I have never experienced this before,” he said. “I created records after each of our nine conversations—if not, I did it for nearly all. I knew there might come a day when I would need a record to defend myself and FBI’s integrity and independence. Circumstances, subject matter, particular person at issue.”

And, he added, he indirectly leaked some of the memos to trigger the naming of a special counsel. The appointment of former FBI director Robert Muller was announced shortly after by the department of justice as special counsel to take over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and alleged collusion by Trump campaign aides.

About the president’s tweet about tapes of his conversations with Comey, the former FBI director said, in a line that went viral on social media, “I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” And later, he added, he would like them to be released.

The former FBI director also said he took the president’s request on Michael Flynn — to let go off the probe — as a direction.

The president, who was reported to be following the testimony, had not responded. But Marc Kasowitz, who is leading the president’s defense in the Russia probe from outside the White House, said in a statement on Wednesday, in response to Comey’s written opening remarks, 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.”

But could not have been about Comey’s full written remarks because he had disputed the president’s account of their interactions — their dinner meeting, on January 27, was not sought by Comey as Trump had indicated; and two, 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”.

Much of Comey’s oral and written testimony confirmed previously known details, such as his conversation with the president about Michael Flynn, just the day after Trump fired his first NSA for misleading the White House about his interactions with Russians. The president had asked the FBI director 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.

First Published: Jun 08, 2017 20:28 IST