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Six big moments from the June 8 James Comey hearing

John Kruzel
By John Kruzel June 8, 2017

Fired FBI director James Comey slammed his former boss in highly anticipated testimony, saying President Donald Trump defamed the agency and that he felt Trump had personally directed him to drop an investigation into embattled former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Under questioning by the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, Comey revealed he made written records of private meetings with Trump in part due to concerns the president "might lie" about their discussions, and admitting to leaking their contents to the media in hopes of triggering a special counsel to oversee a probe into possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The following are the most noteworthy moments from Comey’s testimony.

Comey: Trump defamed me and the FBI

In a fiery opening statement, Comey dispensed with his dramatic prepared remarks and directly addressed the circumstances around his removal as FBI chief.

Comey said that while he was appointed in 2013 to serve a 10-year term as FBI director, he understood he served "at the pleasure of the president," meaning he could be fired at any time, regardless of reason.

But Comey grew increasingly frustrated over the White House’s shifting rationale for his firing, including an explanation that he’d been ousted due to decisions he made during the 2016 election concerning the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Comey told the Senate panel this explanation was nonsensical, before taking at shot at the Trump administration’s handling of his dismissal.

"Although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me -- and more importantly the FBI -- by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader," Comey said. "Those were lies, plain and simple."

Comey said he takes Trump "at his word" that Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation, referencing an interview between Trump and NBC in May in which the president said "this Russia thing" factored into his decision.

Comey recorded memos out of fear Trump ‘might lie’ about their meeting

Comey’s direct explanation for immediately recording his interactions with Trump turned heads.

"I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting," Comey said, "so I thought it really important to document."

He told the Senate panel he had a "gut feeling" given the high-stakes circumstances surrounding a private discussion of sensitive subject matter with the president.

But he also said his reading of Trump’s "nature" helped convince him to create a written record of their interactions, starting with a Jan. 6 briefing at Trump Tower.

Comey engineered leak to trigger appointment of special counsel

Comey’s memos would not sit idly for long. Soon after Trump dismissed Comey, the contents of his written records would form the basis for media coverage that would rock the political world.  

Comey told senators he was driven to share the contents of his memos with the press through an intermediary after Trump tweeted ominously on May 12 about the possibility of taped recordings of his conversations with Comey.

Comey then revealed to senators he calculated the leak to trigger the appointment of a special counsel.

"My judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square," said Comey, later adding, "I asked (a close friend to do it) because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."

Comey addressed Trump’s tweet, too, saying, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."

Comey felt ‘directed’ to end Flynn investigation

In written remarks published June 7, Comey corroborated press accounts that Trump had requested a loyalty pledge from the FBI director in January at a private dinner, and added that he believed Trump sought a "patronage relationship" -- which Comey indicated to mean a relationship in which Comey, as Trump’s subordinate, would be expected to behave in a manner consistent with the president’s wishes.

The former FBI director also said he suspected Trump may have been angling at their private dinner to establish a sense of obligation in Comey for allowing him to stay in his role as FBI chief.

"My common sense told me what's going on here is, he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job," Comey told senators.

This context framed Comey’s testimony to senators about his communication with Trump over the FBI investigation into Flynn. Comey claimed in his written statement that while he was leading the FBI, Trump told him, "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."

Comey told senators he took Trump’s expression of "hope" as an order to comply.

"I took it as a direction," Comey said. "I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying ‘I hope this.’ I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it."

Comey said Lynch wanted email investigation labeled a ‘matter’

In his testimony, Comey elaborated on a difference of opinion he had with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch over how to describe the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

He indicated Lynch asked him to refer to it as a "matter," a rhetorical softening that Comey said gave him a "queasy feeling."

"I don't know whether it was intentional or not but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way the political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate," he said. "We had a criminal investigation open for the federal bureau of investigation." 

Comey says Russian meddling means democracy is under threat

Comey previously told lawmakers he believes Russia poses the United States’ "greatest threat." He once again sounded the alarm on risks emanating from Moscow in his June 8 testimony.

Comey said he had "no doubt" about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election, or the hacking and leaks of the Democrats’ email system.

"They want to undermine our credibility in the face the world. They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them," Comey told lawmakers. "So they're going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible."

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Our Sources

Testimony by James Comey before Senate Intelligence Committee, June 8

PolitiFact, "Read James Comey's opening remarks for the June 8 Senate hearing," June 7, 2017

NBC News interview with Donald Trump, May 11, 2017

New York Times, "In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred," May 11, 2017

New York Times, "Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation," May 16, 2017

Testimony by James Comey before Senate Judiciary Committee, May 3, 2017

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Six big moments from the June 8 James Comey hearing