Former FBI Director James Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning to speak on his interactions with President Donald Trump and other issues during his time atop the country’s top law enforcement agency. During the nearly three-hour session, Comey confirmed the contents and supposed allegations made against Trump in his statement for the record released Wednesday afternoon.
Comey said, among many other things, that the administration’s reasons behind his firing in May were “lies, plain and simple,” and while he had never previously documented his meetings with presidents before, he was worried Trump would lie about their meetings and interactions and thus wrote them down.
The testimony, considered the most eagerly anticipated political event since Election Day, began with opening statements by committee majority chair and Republican Senator Richard Burr, followed by vice chair and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, each of whom commended Comey for his service to the FBI, as well as to the country.
Then it unfolded with questions from both Warner and Burr, and the rest of the committee, touching on topics like whether the president had obstructed justice by asking if the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be “let go,” as well as Comey’s interactions with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The committee concluded just before 1 p.m. EDT, when a closed session was scheduled to begin. Throughout the open session, Comey said there were many questions he could only answer in private, largely because of the ongoing nature of FBI investigations and the sensitive matters involved.
Below are the opening statements from Burr and Warner. The full transcript can be read as it’s updated here from Politico.
BURR: I’d like to call this hearing to order.
Director Comey, I appreciate your willingness to appear before the committee today, and more importantly, I thank you for your dedicated service and leadership to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Your appearance today speaks to the trust we have built over the years, and I’m looking forward to a very open and candid discussion today.
BURR: I’d like to remind my colleagues that we will reconvene in closed session at 1 PM today and I ask that you reserve for that venue any questions that might get into classified information. The director has been very gracious with his time, but the vice chairman and I have worked out a very specific timeline for his commitment to be on the Hill, so we will do everything we can to meet that agreement.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence exists to certify for the other 85 members of the United States Senate and the American people that the intelligence community is operating lawfully and has the necessary authorities and tools to accomplish its mission and keep America safe. Part of our mission, beyond the oversight we continue to provide to the intelligence community and its activities, is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. The committee’s work continues. This hearing represents part of that effort.
Jim, allegations have been swirling in the press for the last several weeks, and today’s your opportunity to set the record straight. Yesterday, I read with interest your statement for the record. And I think it provides some helpful details surrounding your interactions with the president.
It clearly lays out your understanding of those discussions, actions you took following each conversation and your state of mind. I very much appreciate your candor, and I think it’s helpful as we work through to determine the ultimate truth behind possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Your statement also provides texture and context to your interactions with the president, from your vantage point, and outlines a strained relationship. The American people need to hear your side of the story just as they need to hear the president’s descriptions of events.
These interactions also highlight the importance of the committee’s ongoing investigation. Our experienced staff is interviewing all relevant parties and some of the most sensitive intelligence in our country’s possession.
We will establish the facts, separate from rampant speculation, and lay them out for the American people to make their own judgment. Only then will we as a nation be able to move forward and to put this episode to rest. There are several outstanding issues not addressed in your statement that I hope you’ll clear up for the American people today. Did the president’s request for loyalty — your impression that — that the one-on-one dinner of January 27th was, and I quote, “at least in part an effort to create some sort of patronage relationship,” or his March 30th phone call asking what you could do to lift the cloud of Russia investigation in any way, alter your approach of the FBI’s investigation into General Flynn or the broader investigation into Russia and possible links to the campaign?
In your opinion, did potential Russian efforts to establish links with individuals in the Trump orbit rise to the level we could define as collusion? Or was it a counterintelligence concern?
There’s been a significant public speculation about your decision-making related to the Clinton e-mail investigation. Why did you decide publicly — to publicly announce FBI’s recommendations that the Department of Justice not pursue criminal charges? You have described it as a choice between a bad decision and a worse decision. The American people need to understand the facts behind your action.
This committee is uniquely suited to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. We also have a unified, bipartisan approach to what is a highly charged partisan issue. Russian activities during 2016 election may have been aimed at one party’s candidate, but as my colleague, Senator Rubio, says frequently, in 2018 and 2020, it could be aimed at anyone, at home or abroad.
My colleague, Senator Warner, and I have worked in — have worked to to stay in lockstep on this investigation. We’ve had our differences on approach at times. But I’ve constantly stressed that we need to be a team. And I think Senator Warner agrees with me.
We must keep these questions above politics and partisanship. It’s too important to be tainted by anyone trying to score political points.
With that, again, I welcome you, Director.
And I turn to the vice chairman for any comments he might have.
WARNER: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And let me start by, again, absolutely (ph) thanking all the members of the committee for the seriousness in which they’ve taken on this task.
WARNER: Mr. Comey, thank you for agreeing to come testify as part of this committee’s investigation into Russia. I realize that this hearing has been, obviously, the focus of a lot of Washington in the last few days. But the truth is many Americans who may be tuning in today probably haven’t focused on every twist and turn of the investigation.
So I’d like to briefly describe, at least from this senator’s standpoint, what we already know and what we’re still investigating. To be clear, this whole (ph) investigation is not about relitigating the election. It’s not about who won or lost. And it sure as heck is not about Democrats versus Republicans.
We’re here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process — our presidential election.
Russian spies engaged in a series of online cyber raids and a broad campaign of disinformation, all ultimately aimed at sowing chaos to us to undermine public faith in our process, in our leadership and ultimately in ourselves.
And that’s not just this senator’s opinion, it is the unanimous determination of the entire U.S. intelligence community. So we must find out the full story, what the Russians did, and, candidly, as some other colleagues have mentioned, why they were so successful. And, more importantly, we must determine the necessary steps to take to protect our democracy and ensure they can’t do it again.
Chairman mentioned elections in 2018 and 2020. In my home state of Virginia, we have elections this year, in 2017. Simply put, we cannot let anything or anyone prevent us from getting to the bottom of this.
Now, Mr. Comey, let me say at the outset we haven’t always agreed on every issue. In fact, I’ve occasionally questioned some of the actions you’ve taken. But I’ve never had any reason to question your integrity, your expertise or your intelligence.
You’ve been a straight shooter with this committee, and have been willing to speak truth to power, even at the risk of your own career, which makes the way in which you were fired by the president ultimately shocking.
WARNER: Recall, we began this entire process with the president and his staff first denying that the Russians were ever involved, and then falsely claiming that no one from his team was never in touch with any Russians.
We know that’s just not the truth. Numerous Trump associates had undisclosed contacts with Russians before and after the election, including the president’s attorney general, his former national security adviser and his current senior adviser, Mr. Kushner.
That doesn’t even begin to count the host of additional campaign associates and advisers who’ve also been caught up in this massive web. We saw Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Mr. Manafort, forced to step down over ties to Russian-backed entities. The national security adviser, General Flynn, had to resign over his lies about engagements with the Russians.
And we saw the candidate him — himself, express an odd and unexplained affection for the Russian dictator, while calling for the hacking of his opponent. There’s a lot to investigate. Enough, in fact that then Director Comey publicly acknowledged that he was leading an investigation into those links between Mr. Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
As the director of the FBI, Mr. Comey was ultimately responsible for conducting that investigation, which might explain why you’re sitting now as a private citizen.
What we didn’t know was, at the same time that this investigation was proceeding, the president himself appears to have been engaged in an effort to influence, or at least co-opt, the director of the FBI. The testimony that Mr. Comey has submitted for today’s hearing is very disturbing.
For example, on January 27th, after summoning Director Comey to dinner, the president appears to have threatened the (ph) director’s job while telling him, quote, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
WARNER: At a later meeting, on February 14th, the president asked the attorney general to leave the Oval Office so that he could privately ask Director Comey, again, quote, “to see way clear (ph) to letting Flynn go.”
That is a statement that Director Comey interpreted as a — as a request that he drop the investigation, connected to General Flynn’s false statements. Think about it: the president of the United States asking the FBI director to drop an ongoing investigation.
And, after that, the president called the FBI director on two additional occasions, March 30th and April 11th, and asked him again, quote, “to lift the cloud” on the Russian investigation.
Now, Director Comey denied each of these improper requests. The loyalty pledge, the admonition to drop the Flynn investigation, the request to lift the cloud on the Russia investigation. Of course, after his refusals, Director Comey was fired.
The initial explanation for the firing didn’t pass any smell test. So now Director Comey was fired because (ph) he didn’t treat Hillary Clinton appropriately. Of course, that explanation lasted about a day, because the president himself then made very clear that he was thinking about Russia when he decided to fire Director Comey.
Shockingly, reports suggest that the president admitted as much in an Oval Office meeting with the Russians the day after Director Comey was fired, disparaging our country’s top law enforcement official as a, quote/unquote, “nut job.” The president allegedly suggested that his firing relieved great pressure on his feelings about Russia.
This is not happening in isolation. At the same time the president was engaged in these efforts with Director Comey, he was also, at least allegedly, asking senior leaders of the intelligence community to downplay the Russia investigation or to intervene with the director.
Yesterday, we had DNI Director Coats and NSA Director Admiral Rogers, who were offered a number of opportunities to flatly deny those press reports. They expressed their opinions, but they did not take that opportunity to deny those reports. They did not take advantage of that opportunity. In my belief, that’s not how the president of the United States should behave.
Regardless of the outcome of our investigation into the Russia links, Director Comey’s firing and his testimony raise separate and troubling questions that we must get to the bottom of.
Again, as I said at the outset, I’ve seen firsthand how seriously every member of this committee is taking his work. I’m proud of the committee’s efforts so far. Let me be clear: This is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news. It is an effort to protect our country from a new threat that, quite honestly, will not go away any time soon.
So, Mr. Comey, your testimony here today will help us move towards that goal. I look forward to that testimony.
WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Thank you, Vice Chairman.