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Comey: Trump Told Me 'I Need Loyalty. I Expect Loyalty'

Comey: Trump Told Me 'I Need Loyalty. I Expect Loyalty'
Former FBI Director James Comey (AP Photo)

By    |   Wednesday, 07 June 2017 02:16 PM EDT

Former FBI Director James Comey will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that President Donald Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty and to end the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to his prepared remarks posted online Wednesday.

"I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," Comey said Trump told him in his prepared remarks, posted on the website of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "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," he continued, describing his Jan. 27 dinner with President Trump at the White House. "The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner."

The full text of Comey's seven-page remarks can be read here.

Regarding the Flynn probe, Comey said Trump twice brought up the topic of in a Feb. 14 meeting at the Oval Office that followed a counter-terrorism briefing.

"'He is a good guy, and has been through a lot,'" Comey said Trump said to him during the second conversation on the topic.

By then, he and Trump were alone, after the president "waved at" Chief of Staff Reince Priebus "to close the door, saying he would be done shortly.

"He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the vice president [Mike Pence].

Flynn had resigned the day before over concerns about his disclosures to Pence about his Russia contacts.

"He then said: '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 said in the statement.

"I replied only that, 'he is a good guy,'" Comey said in the remarks, adding "In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI."

"I did not say I would 'let this go.'"

Comey's testimony is scheduled for public session before the Senate panel, chaired by Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is the panel's vice chairman.

His testimony also follows that of four intelligence chiefs, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who testified on an extension of surveillance methods Wednesday.

Comey's prepared statement comes from the notes he said he "felt compelled to document" – beginning after his first meeting with Trump on Jan. 6, when he was president-elect.

"Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward," Comey said in the statement. "This had not been my practice in the past."

He noted he spoke with former President Barack Obama "twice in person (and never on the phone)" and in "neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions."

With Trump, Comey said "I can recall nine one-on-one conversations . . . in four months – three in person and six on the phone."

He details two other meetings with Trump – the dinner meeting Jan. 27 and the Feb. 14 Oval Office session – and two telephone calls, March 30 and April 11.

Trump fired Comey on May 9.

"I have not included every detail from my conversations with the president," Comey said in the remarks, "but, to the best of my recollection, I have tried to include information that may be relevant to the committee."

Leading up to the Trump Tower meeting, Comey said he had discussed with other intelligence officials "whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally."

"That was true," Comey said in the statement. "We did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him.

"We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted."

Comey said he and other intelligence officials would be briefing Trump on "salacious and unverified" information in a Russian dossier about Trump that was to be leaked to the news media that could be seen as "some effort to compromise an incoming president."

By disclosing the information to the president the hope was to "blunt any such effort with a defensive briefing."

"During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-elect Trump's reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance" he was not personally under investigation on Russia, Comey said in the statement.

At the January dinner meeting, Comey said Trump "began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director."

Comey said he found the question "strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to.

"My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.

"That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch."

Comey said he told Trump "I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my 10-year term as director.

"And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not 'reliable' in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth.

"I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the president."

Trump brought up the loyalty issue twice during the dinner, Comey said, and he ended his comments with the term "honest loyalty."

"It is possible we understood the phrase 'honest loyalty' differently, but I decided it wouldn't be productive to push it further," Comey said in the statement.

"The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect."

Others present at the Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office included Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

He asked them all to leave before broaching the Flynn investigation.

"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," Comey said in his remarks.

"I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.

"I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn's departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.

"Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency."

Comey said he did not report the conversation to those beyond his immediate FBI leadership team or Attorney General Sessions, "who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations."

Sessions recused himself two weeks later, March 2.

"We decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed," Comey said. "The investigation moved ahead at full speed, with none of the investigative team members – or the Department of Justice lawyers supporting them – aware of the president's request."

However, Comey said he approached Sessions "shortly afterward" and sought to "implore" him to "prevent any future direct communication between the president and me."

He said he told Sessions about when Trump asked the attorney general to leave the Oval Office, while he remained behind, and it was "inappropriate and should never happen.

"He did not reply," Comey said of Sessions.

In the two telephone conversations, Comey said President Trump called him, seeking to get him to "lift the cloud" and "get out" the word he personally was neither under investigation on Moscow, nor involved in any of the activities alleged in the Russian dossier.

"He repeatedly told me, 'We need to get that fact out,'" Comey said Trump told him in the March 30 call.

"I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our having done the work well," Comey said he told Trump.

"He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him."

He reported the call to Justice Department officials but did not hear back from them before the president called him again two weeks later, April 11.

In that call, Comey said Trump asked him what he had done to "get out" information he was not personally under investigation.

He said he told the president he had passed on the request to Justice officials, "but I had not heard back.

"He replied that 'the cloud' was getting in the way of his ability to do his job."

President Trump said he would "have his people reach out" to department officials, and Comey said "that was the way his request should be handled.

"I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.

"He said he would do that and added, 'Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know,'" Comey said Trump told him.

"I did not reply or ask him what he meant by 'that thing,'" he said in his remarks. "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.

"That was the last time I spoke with President Trump."

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Former FBI Director James Comey will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that President Donald Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty and to end the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to his prepared remarks posted online Wednesday.
FBI, director, Senate, testimony
Wednesday, 07 June 2017 02:16 PM
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