WASHINGTON — During a one-on-one Valentine’s Day conversation in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump askedformer FBI chief James Comey to let go of an investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, whom Trumphad just fired, Comey said in a statement released Wednesday.
In a March phone conversation, the seven-page statement submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee continued,Trump asked Comey to “lift the cloud” of an FBI investigation into Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 election.
Trump fired Comey in May. The president told NBC’s Lester Holt, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘Youknow this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost anelection they should have won.’”
Comey did not say if he considers Trump’s attempts to steer him off the probes to constitute obstruction of justice, but thesubject is sure to come up when he testifies before the Senate committee in an open hearing Thursday morning. Comey willaddress a closed panel in the afternoon.
Comey wrote that the two men spoke nine times. Comey always wrote accounts of their talks immediately afterward “toensure accuracy.”
According to the statement, Comey did assure the president three times that Trump was not under investigation, as Trumphas asserted.
During a Jan. 27 dinner, Trump told Comey, “I need loyalty.” Comey said he responded, “You will always get honesty fromme.” To which he claimed Trump said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” Comey paused, then told Trump, “you will getthat from me.”
“As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner,” Comey wrote, “it is possible we understood the phrase‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
When asked Wednesday if the president still stands by his statement that he did not ask Comey for his loyalty or to drop aninvestigation, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I can’t imagine the president not standing by his ownstatement.” She then referred questions about Comey to the president’s outside counsel, Marc E. Kasowitz.
Kasowitz told Bloomberg News that Comey’s admission that he told Trump that he was not under investigation made thepresident feel “completely and totally vindicated.”
“He is eager to move forward with his agenda,” he said.
Comey appeared uncomfortable from the start about interacting with Trump. Their first meeting occurred in Trump Toweron Jan. 6 during a briefing with leaders of the intelligence community. Afterward, Comey remained to brief Trump on“personally sensitive aspects of information” gathered during the FBI’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with theelection.
That information, Comey noted, was “salacious and unverified,” but the briefing was necessary because the media wereabout to report on a leaked dossier and “to the extent there was some effort to compromise an incoming president, wecould blunt any such effort with a defensive briefing.”
The fired FBI chief also wrote that Trump asked him during a January dinner if he planned to stay on the job, “which I foundstrange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured himthat I intended to.” Later Comey lectured Trump about the dangers of blurring lines between the White House and anindependent Department of Justice.
The intelligence committee released the Comey statement at his request after National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats,National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director AndrewMcCabe testified during an open hearing Wednesday. All four refused to divulge whether Trump had asked them to dropthe Russia investigation, although they did suggest they would answer that question during a closed hearing in theafternoon.
Coats refused to comment on a Washington Post story that reported Trump asked Coats to intervene with Comey. “I don’tbelieve it’s appropriate for me to answer that in a public session,” Coats told Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. However, Coats didsay, “I have never felt pressured to interfere or intervene in shaping intelligence in any way.”
By afternoon, the Comey statement topped the news.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “Comey testimony confirms@POTUS demanded his loyalty and asked for Flynn case to be dropped. Did his refusal to do either cost him his job?”
“The testimony underscores how Trump is his own worst enemy,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, said in a statement.
But John Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor who worked in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, saw the statementas “kind of a dud. I don’t see anything there that’s like a smoking gun. I don’t see anything that amounts to obstruction ofjustice.”
In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, “Director Comey’s statement reconfirmedwhat the president has been saying all along — he was never under investigation.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.