Comey signals he’ll answer the Trump questions he refused before
In March, then–FBI Director James Comey was asked while testifying before Congress about Russian interference in the U.S. election whether the FBI was investigating President Donald Trump himself. Citing the “open setting” of the televised hearing, Comey declined to answer.
“I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this,” Comey said. “So I really can’t answer it one way or another.”
But on Thursday, the now ex-FBI director won’t be so tight-lipped. In seven pages of written testimony released a day in advance of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Comey telegraphed to lawmakers that he’s now willing to discuss Trump’s conduct, investigation or not.
Noting that “I have not included every detail from my conversations with the President,” Comey told lawmakers some striking details about “nine one-on-one” interactions he says he had with Trump over the course of four months. Comey opened the door to questioning about a possible FBI investigation of Trump, writing in his testimony that he assured the president during a March 30 phone conversation that no such investigation had been launched.
That was five weeks before Trump fired Comey, and the former director will almost certainly be asked whether an investigation was subsequently opened during that time. In his written testimony, the former FBI director explicitly noted that he had previously been reluctant to publicly announce that there was not an investigation against Trump — as the president repeatedly asked him to do — because “it would create a duty to correct, should that change.” A reasonable position, though one somewhat at odds with his public conduct in the midst of the bureau’s Hillary Clinton investigation.
Comey’s newfound candor was not reflected in a Senate hearing Wednesday, where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA head Michael Rogers both declined to answer questions about whether Trump had asked them to intervene in the FBI investigation.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to address that in a public session,” Coats said.
Comey’s testimony leaves several breadcrumbs to questions he may be open to answering before the Intelligence Committee, including ones probing whether Trump’s repeated attempts to privately discuss FBI investigations amount to an obstruction of justice, the FBI’s investigation of the explosive dossier of alleged intelligence on the president first published by BuzzFeed in January, and Trump’s clumsy attempts to “have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship,” as Comey described it.
“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo,” Comey noted in his testimony. “To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.”
Testifying before Congress Thursday, he’ll no doubt be glad he did.
Read Comey’s letter in full below.