Comey to testify Trump told him: “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty”
Ahead of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Thursday, a written statement revealed vivid details of several “awkward” one-on-one conversations he had with President Donald Trump before his firing.
Comey’s statement, released Wednesday by the Senate intelligence committee at Comey’s behest, caught the White House by surprise. “I did find the timing of the release a little bit interesting,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
The seven-page testimony confirms many previously reported leaks regarding Comey’s interactions with Trump leading up to his abrupt firing on May 9, including Trump’s request to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a pledge of loyalty, and discussion over the salacious Russian dossier.
Comey wrote he has “not included every detail from [his] conversations with the president,” just the portions he thought would be “relevant” to the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Comey wrote that he took detailed notes after nine one-on-one conversations — three in person and six on the phone — with Trump over the course of four months.
By contrast, Comey wrote that he spoke with President Obama only twice in person and never on the phone after becoming FBI director in September 2013.
Here are the highlights:
The reason Comey started taking notes
Comey first met Trump in person on Jan. 6 at a conference room in Trump Tower. Comey was joined by other members of the intelligence community, who planned to brief Trump about the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the election and the existence of “some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment.”
The meeting happened just four days before BuzzFeed published an explosive dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official that included unconfirmed reports that the Russians had compromising information about Trump, including video footage of sexual acts with prostitutes.
Before delivering the information to Trump, other officials left the room so Comey could “minimize potential embarrassment to the president-elect.” After discussing with FBI leadership whether Comey should assure Trump he wasn’t being personally investigated, they all agreed he should. Comey wrote that he did offer that assurance to Trump.
After the conversation, Comey wrote he “felt compelled to document” what was said and “began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment [he] walked out of the meeting.”
The “loyalty” conversation
Comey’s second conversation with Trump occurred on Jan. 27 during a one-on-one dinner at the Green Room in the White House where they were “seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room.”
During the meeting, Comey wrote that Trump asked him about his desire to stay on the job, which made him feel as though Trump wanted to “create some sort of patronage relationship,” which he noted “concerned [him] greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”
Asked whether he wanted to “wanted to walk away” by Trump, Comey wrote:
I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-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.
A few moments later, the president said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” 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. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.
Later in the conversation, Comey recalled Trump again saying, “I need loyalty,” to which he replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” Later Trump responded by saying he expected “honest loyalty” from Comey.
Trump also brought up the “salacious material” again that he and Comey discussed during their last meeting, according to Comey’s statement. The former FBI director wrote the president “expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them.”
The Flynn discussion
The next meeting happened on Feb. 14 at the Oval Office, when Trump asked Comey to stay behind for a one-on-one conversation after a counter-terrorism briefing. Comey recalled that the last people in the room were Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, but the president asked both of them to leave.
When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the president began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The president began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the vice president. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.”
After grumbling about leaks to the press and a brief interruption by Reince Priebus, Trump brought up Flynn again.
The president then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the vice president. 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.”
In his statement, Comey noted that he did not tell Trump he would “let this go,” but he also believed Trump wasn’t talking about the broader investigation into Russian meddling — only Flynn.
Comey felt Trump asking Sessions to leave the room — when Comey reports directly to Sessions — was “inappropriate and should never happen.” After that meeting, Comey asked Sessions “to prevent any future direct communication between the president and [himself].”
Trump tries to “lift the cloud”
Comey’s next conversation with Trump was a phone call he received on March 30 at FBI headquarters. In it, Trump “described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”
Then, as Comey put it:
[Trump] said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to “lift the cloud.” 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. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.
Comey wrote that Trump “went on to say that if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that [Flynn] hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped [Comey] would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating [Flynn].”
Here’s Comey on how the conversation ended:
[Trump] finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated. I told him I would see what we could do, and that we would do our investigative work well and as quickly as we could.
The last chat
On the morning of April 11, Comey spoke to Trump for the last time. The president had called to ask what he had done about his request to “get out” the information that Trump was not personally under investigation. Comey told Trump he should make the request through official channels in the White House and Justice Department.
Here’s Comey’s recollection of what happened next:
He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing, you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” 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.
Less than a month after that meeting, Comey was fired. And on Wednesday, two days before Comey’s first public testimony since leaving office, Trump nominated his replacement.
Watch Comey discuss Trump and the Russia probe live Thursday at 10 a.m. ET on VICE News.
Read the letter in full below.