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Published On: Thu, Jun 8th, 2017

Fired FBI Director Comey testifies about talks with Trump and “this Russia thing”

nsnbc : Fired FBI Director James Comey testified on Thursday, before the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, telling U.S. lawmakers that President Donald Trump expected him to pledge his loyalty and urged him to cease investigating links between Trump’s aides and Russian officials.

Comey_FBI_Senate Intelligence Committee_Washington D.C._USA_Jun 2017Trump fired Comey in May, saying he was thinking “of this Russia thing” when he mede the decision to fire the FBI Director while Comey was leading a probe into alleged links between Trump aides and Russian officials. Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee marked his first public comments about nine conversations he said he has had with Trump in the months before he was dismissed. Three of these were face to face conversations, while six were phone conversations, said Comey.

The ousted FBI Chief told the members of the Committee he was confused by various explanations that Trump and his aides gave for his ouster and said they “chose to defame me” for his performance as the FBI chief by claiming – wrongly in his view – that the agency was in disarray. Comey claimed that ultimately, he believed, he was fired because of the FBI investigation into “this Russia thing”. Comey said it is the “high confident judgment” of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the presidential election campaign to help Trump defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It’s not a close call.”

In his opening written statement, Comey recounted how at a White House dinner in January shortly after Trump assumed power, the president told him, “‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” However, a demand for loyalty by the president does not equate to evidence for “this Russia thing”, nor is it unusual that a superior requests loyalty from his functionaries.

Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a member of the Committee, called Trump’s comments, as recounted by Comey, “very disturbing.”  In another passage, Comey testified that Trump asked him on February 14 to “let go” of the investigation into Michael Flynn, who had been fired as Trump’s national security adviser the previous day for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Comey quoted Trump as saying, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey acknowledged that Trump did not order him to stop the investigation of Flynn’s connections with Russia. However, he said, “I took it as direction. This is what he wanted to me to do,” even though Comey said he did not end the probe. Comey said he was “so stunned” by Trump’s request to “let go” of the investigation of Flynn that he did not think at the time to tell Trump, “Mr. President, that’s wrong.” He added that FBI colleagues were as “shocked and troubled as I was” by Trump’s comments urging an end to the probe of Flynn.

Comey said that in a March 30 phone call, Trump “described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. … He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problem this was causing him.”

Comey described five of his conversations with Trump. Lawmakers are likely to ask him about the other four contacts Comey said he had with the president. “I have not included every detail from my conversations with the president, but, to the best of my recollection, I have tried to include information that may be relevant to the committee,” Comey wrote in his seven-page statement.

After Comey’s opening statement was released Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, offered the president’s interpretation of Comey’s testimony: “The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”

Comey stated that he told Trump three times that he was not personally under investigation, but some opposition Democrats now say that Trump’s requests to Comey to drop the Russia probe amounts to obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense similar to that leading to the 1974 resignation of former President Richard Nixon.

Kasowitz did not address any of Comey’s claims that Trump attempted to curb the FBI’s Russia investigation. Within days of Comey’s firing, Trump’s Justice Department, over his objections, named a special counsel, Robert Mueller, another former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, to lead the criminal investigation into all aspects of Russia’s alleged meddling in the election aimed at helping Trump defeat former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump said at the time that thinks Mueller’s appointment “hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.” Trump has been dismissive of the Russia probes, calling them “a witch hunt” and saying they are an excuse by Democrats to explain Clinton’s stunning upset loss in the November election. He has denied any collusion with Russian officials.

F/AK – nsnbc 08.06.2017

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