James Comey Accuses White House Of Lying About His Firing

Jun 8, 2017
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People had been waiting to hear from former FBI Director James Comey ever since he was abruptly fired a month ago. His appearance on Capitol Hill today did not disappoint. Comey pitted his credibility against the president of the United States. He accused the Trump administration of lying, and he described a series of interactions with President Trump that he says should be investigated. NPR's Carrie Johnson has more.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: James Comey opened the highly anticipated hearing by saying he understood he could be fired for any reason at any time before his 10-year term as FBI director ended, but he says the Trump administration misled him and the American people about the real reason for his dismissal.

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JAMES COMEY: 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. Those were lies, plain and simple.

JOHNSON: Instead, Comey says he now believes what President Donald Trump later told a TV interviewer. He was fired because of the FBI probe into Russian interference in last year's election, which is also looking at whether any of Trump's campaign aides played a role.

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COMEY: I take the president at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.

JOHNSON: Comey told the Senate intelligence committee he was concerned from the start that Trump would lie about their meetings. So he took detailed notes, a practice he did not follow with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. In one of those meetings, Comey says Trump demanded a pledge of loyalty. In another, he allegedly asked Comey to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Independent Senator Angus King wanted to know more about that.

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ANGUS KING: When a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like I hope or I suggest or would you, do you take that as a - as a directive?

COMEY: Yes. Yes. It rings in my ear as kind of will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

KING: I was just going to quote that in 1170, December 29, Henry II said, who will rid me of this meddlesome priest? And then the next day, he was killed.

JOHNSON: It took nearly three more months for Comey to lose his job after that conversation with Trump in the Oval Office. Speaking today for the first time, Trump's personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz says the president never demanded a loyalty pledge, and he denied Trump ever tried to end any investigation.

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MARC KASOWITZ: The president never sought to impede the investigation into attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election. And in fact, the president told Mr. Comey, quote, "it would be good to find out," close quote, in that investigation if there was, quote, "some satellite associates of his who did something wrong," close quote.

JOHNSON: Back inside the hearing room, Republican lawmakers pressed Comey on the exact words the president used that day, trying to suggest Trump had delivered no real order to shut down a case. Idaho Senator James Risch.

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JAMES RISCH: He did not direct you to let it go.

COMEY: Not in his words, no.

RISCH: He did not order you to let it go.

COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.

RISCH: No.

JOHNSON: But Comey says he took them as a directive. Why else, he says, would the president have ushered the attorney general and his chief of staff out of the room to talk to Comey alone? President Trump later tweeted a warning, that Comey had better hope there are no tapes of their meetings, to which Comey replied today bring it on.

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COMEY: Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.

JOHNSON: Comey, a former prosecutor and deputy U.S. attorney general, resisted drawing conclusions about whether Trump had broken the law. He says the president was not under investigation on the day he left the FBI, May 9. But Comey says he can't answer that question anymore. Instead, Comey referred West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to the new special counsel who's taken over the investigation.

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JOE MANCHIN: Do you believe this will rise to obstruction of justice?

COMEY: I don't know. That - that's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out.

JOHNSON: About Robert Mueller - he's Comey's predecessor at the FBI and a man for whom Comey has the highest praise. At the hearing today, Comey acknowledged he played a role in the events that led to the appointment of a special counsel. He says he had a friend pass one of his memos about Trump to The New York Times in the hopes that the Justice Department would appoint an independent prosecutor. Kasowitz, Trump's private lawyer, seized on that disclosure to try to paint Comey as one of many leakers trying to undermine the White House. In all of the back and forth, several senators and even Comey himself say they hope people don't lose sight of one important fact - Russia, they say, tried to interfere in last year's presidential race, and the Russians are not done yet. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.