James Comey’s written testimony regarding his interactions with President Donald Trump regarding the Russia investigation blows a massive hole in the story the president has been telling about the duo’s interactions.
The testimony, which Comey is set to deliver Thursday in one of the most highly-anticipated Congressional hearing in decades, reads like a point-by-point dismissal of Trump’s version of events – casting Comey as wary from the get-go of a chief executive who seemed to presume too much and know too little.
In the wake of their first interaction, ever, on January 6, Comey decided that it was necessary to have written documentation of any time he spent with Trump.
“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past. I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.”
Read between the lines there. From the day he met Trump, Comey felt the need to always document everything they talked about – a practice he had never undertaken with President Obama. And, more amazingly, Comey recalls that he had two one-on-one conversations with Obama in four years; he had nine(!) one-on-one conversations with Trump between Jan. 6 and when he was fired on May 9. Nine!
It only gets worse from there for Trump in Comey’s opening statement.
Comey says that he was surprised to learn that a dinner invitation extended to him by Trump on Jan. 27 was for just the two of them (“It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room,” Comey writes. “Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”) and that the goal of the meeting was “an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.”
Twice in that meeting Trump, recounted Comey, made a direct request for loyalty from the FBI director. “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump told Comey. Later, he returned to the subject. Here’s Comey’s recollection:
“He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’”
Comey also confirmed in his written testimony that Trump directly asked him to “let go” of the investigation into deposed national security adviser Michael Flynn. Quoting Trump, Comey writes of the Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
I mean. Holy crap.
Then there is this, from Comey’s after-action report of that meeting: “I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.”
While Comey noted that he did not believe Trump was asking for the entire Russia investigation to disappear, that the sitting FBI director did believe the sitting president was asking to have a federal investigation of any sort dropped is, well, stunning.
In their final conversation – a phone call from Trump to Comey on April 11 – the president again sought to secure Comey’s loyalty, according to the former FBI Director’s re-telling.
After Comey tells Trump that he should contact the deputy Attorney General’s office in regards to his repeated request to “get out” the news that he was not a target of the federal investigation, here’s how Comey remembers the president’s response:
“He said he would do that and added, ‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.”
“We had that thing you know.”
If there is a single sentence that will become the symbol of Comey’s testimony – or even of Trump’s broader interactions with the FBI director – it’s that. Trump trying to establish some rapport or, really, some sense of “you owe me” while Comey stares blankly.
The broader picture presented by Comey’s testimony is deeply damaging to Trump.
That Trump and Comey had nine one-on-one conversations in the space of just over three months – as opposed to the two one-on-one chats Comey had with Obama in four years – is hugely telling. And, in those conversations Trump is repeatedly cast as attempting to secure Comey’s loyalty – and, at times, suggesting his job depends on it. (FBI directors are appointed for 10 year terms but, as we know, can be fired at any time by a president.) That he asks for Comey to end the probe into Flynn is, at minimum a massive breach of protocol.
Trump and his allies will work to dismiss Comey’s testimony – and his answers in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow – as, at best, a “he said, he said” situation and, at worst, “fake news.”
Read Comey’s testimony yourself. Make your own decision. My read: Trump’s already-rocky presidency is headed to even rougher waters. And soon.