In an opening statement -- which he requested be made public ahead of his visit
-- former FBI Director James Comey offers a near cinematic account of private conversations with President Donald Trump -- a blow-by-blow of their uncomfortable, souring relationship and potentially some new insight into why he was eventually fired.
Comey's statement has the ring of a carefully crafted screenplay. Trump, he writes, told him, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."
Comey responded, according his account, by keeping totally still -- "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."
With these new assertions now public, Thursday's testimony figures to be -- if it's possible -- more sensational than expected. Not that it's likely to phase Comey, who never seems far from the latest political drama.
Here are a few of his greatest hits:
Comey vs. the Bush White House
Comey's first cannonball into the public eye came more than a decade ago, on May 15, 2007, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the firings of US attorneys by George W. Bush's White House.
The story Comey told -- known to only a few, including the person who asked him to tell it
-- would help to sink Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who resigned a few months later.
Under oath, Comey described a March 10, 2004, showdown with Bush administration officials, who wanted John Ashcroft, Gonzales' predecessor, to sign papers reauthorizing a domestic surveillance program the Justice Department had recently deemed illegal. Ashcroft, though, was in the hospital recovering from gall bladder surgery, so the two sides raced to his bedside.
In his telling, Comey arrived first, ahead of chief of staff Andy Card and Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and watched on -- pointedly unacknowledged -- as Ashcroft managed to turn back their request.
The fight didn't end there. Bush ultimately backed off, but not before Comey and his colleagues, including the FBI director, Robert Mueller, threatened to resign en masse if the program was revived.
Mueller, of course, is now the special counsel overseeing the charged probe into alleged ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.
Clinton is cleared*
Comey has a way of angering both Republicans and Democrats. On July 5, 2016, he managed both at the same time.
In a news conference announcing that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Clinton for her handling of classified documents, conducted on a private email server during her time as secretary of state, Comey offered a memorably unkind evaluation
the candidate's past behavior.
Here are four of his most pointed criticisms:
- "Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."
- "None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at agencies and departments of the United States government -- or even with a commercial email service like Gmail."
- "Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked 'classified' in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it."
- "While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified email systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the government."
Sick to his stomach
On May 3, Comey returned to the Hill for a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. He would be fired a few days later. But over his four hours there, he again provided a week's worth of bulletins
-- and one memorable phrase that might have sealed his fate with Trump.
First, he defended his decision to announce, in July 2016 (more on that below), that he was closing the Clinton email investigation and not recommending charges. That was on the Justice Department, he said.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's "meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me, and I then said, 'You know what? The department cannot, by itself, credibly end this,' " he told the senators.
But it was Comey's response
to the suggestion that his decision to publicly re-open the investigation so close to the vote (in a letter to Congress on October 28, 2016) had potentially swung the balance of the presidential race, that grabbed the most attention.
"It makes me mildly nauseous," he said, "to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision."
Two birds with one testimony
It was during his March 20 testimony to the House intelligence committee that Comey, still the FBI boss, confirmed the existence of an investigation into "the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."
As importantly, he went on to effectively shoot down Trump's baseless allegation that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had ordered the Trump Tower "wires tapped" during the 2016 campaign.
"We have no information to support those tweets," Comey said.