Comey says he was fired because of Trump-Russia probe
WASHINGTON — As former FBI Director James Comey accused the Trump White House of lying about the reasons for his dismissal, Connecticut’s congressional delegation and all of Washington were watching.
Amid hours of testimony Thursday, they heard Comey tell the Senate Intelligence Committee he was clearly fired last month because of the bureau’s investigation of links between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
“Jim Comey was riveting (and) chilling in his portrait of a president abusing power and seeking to put himself above law,’’ said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is not an Intelligence Committee member but sat in the audience throughout the hearing. “As Comey said, Trump fired him to change the course of the investigation — which is actually putting the nation at risk.’’
Blumenthal’s Connecticut colleague in the Senate, Chris Murphy, said, “Every day, it seems like the walls are closing in on this president. What’s most important is that investigators in the Senate and at the Department of Justice get all the facts and find the truth.”
Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, “If the White House’s account differs from what we heard today, the American people deserve to hear the president’s side of the story in a similar forum — under oath and open to the press.’’
Comey was by turns angry over his treatment by Trump and almost apologetic Thursday for not challenging the president more forcefully — especially when Trump asked about “letting Flynn go,’’ a reference to dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey told the Intelligence Committee that he started writing memos of his interactions with Trump from Jan. 6 this year through April 11, because “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting(s).’’
Much of the back-and-forth between senators of both parties focused on why Comey resisted Trump’s effort to get the FBI to issue a statement that Trump himself was not under investigation, and why he tried to smooth over the president’s demand for “loyalty.’’
Comey told senators he refused to issue such a statement because it might lead to a “slippery slope’’ of retraction if evidence were to implicate the president. And at his Jan. 27 dinner White House dinner where Trump asked for “loyalty,’’ Comey said he agreed to “honest loyalty’’ as a way of ending “a very awkward conversation.’’
Blumenthal said he was stunned by Comey’s statement that Russia would keep disrupting life in America unless measures are taken to stop it. And he said he would call for the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, to bring Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to explain why they didn’t do more to protect Comey and the FBI.
Other members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation weighed in on Comey’s testimony, often adding their own criticisms of the president’s conduct.
“Jim Comey’s testimony today is an important step forward in the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 Election,’’ said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “The information and testimony he presented suggests that the special counsel will have to consider possible obstruction of justice. While I am not a lawyer or a prosecutor, it appears that President Trump worked to impede the Russian investigation.’’
Rep. Elizabeth Esty said Comey’s words “confirmed many of the most troubling news reports about President Trump’s conduct, including that President Trump may have inappropriately interfered with an FBI investigation into a former member of his administration.’’
Rep. Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee that is conducting a parallel inquiry into Russia’s connections to the Trump campaign, said his panel will continue “in a bipartisan fashion to gather documents, interview witnesses and conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation. In cooperation with the Senate and the FBI, will get to the bottom of this matter.’’
Comey was emphatic in his testimony that the Russian hacking under investigation was real, and neither a “hoax’’ nor “fake news,” as Trump himself labeled it. The investigation is focusing on Trump campaign contacts with Russian intelligence as part of a wider probe of Russian efforts to swing the 2016 election to Trump.
“They did it with purpose, they did it with sophistication, they did it with overwhelming technical efforts, and it was an active-measure campaign driven from the top of the government,’’ Comey said in response to questioning by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “There is no fuzz on that.’’
Comey said he concluded that Trump was making his continued service as FBI director contingent on short-circuiting the Russia investigation in general, and Flynn’s possible jeopardy in particular.
“I took (Trump’s words) as a direction,’’ Comey said. “It is the president of the United States with me alone … I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey it, but I took it that way.’’
He concluded that Trump fired him over the Russia probe because he saw “the president say so.’’
Comey grew incensed when, after firing him on May 9, Trump suggested it was because the FBI was in disarray, Comey was a poor leader and the agency’s rank-and-file had lost confidence in him.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,’’ Comey said.