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Fired FBI Direct, James Comey, Testifies Before Senate. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COMEY: So it's been reported to us, in that I heard it and now I've shared it with the leaders of the FBI -- our -- our conversation was, should we share this with any senior officials at the Justice Department?
Our -- our absolute primary concern was, we can't infect the investigative team. We don't want the agents and analysts working on this to know the president of the United States has -- has asked -- and when it comes from the president, I took it as a direction -- to get rid of this investigation, because we're not going to follow that -- that request.
And so we decided we gotta keep it away from our troops. But is there anybody else we ought to tell at the Justice Department? And, as I laid out in my -- in my statement, we considered whether to tell the attorney general, decided that didn't make sense because we believed, rightly, that he was shortly going to recuse.
There were no other Senate-confirmed leaders in the Justice Department at that point. The deputy attorney general was Mr. Boente, who was acting and going to be shortly in that seat. And we decided the best move would be to hold it, keep it in a box, document it as we'd already done, and then this investigation's going to go on -- figure out what to do with it down the road.
Is there way to corroborate this? Our view, at the time, was, look, it's your word against the president's. There's no way to corroborate this. That -- my view of that changed when the prospect of tapes was raised, but that's how we thought about it then.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Senator Rubio.
RUBIO: Thank you.
Director Comey, the meeting in the Oval Office where he made the request about Mike Flynn -- was that the only time he asked you to hopefully let it go?
COMEY: Yes. RUBIO: And in that meeting, as you understood it, that was -- he was asking not about the general Russia investigation, he was asking very specifically about the jeopardy that Flynn was in himself?
COMEY: That's how I understood it, yes, sir.
RUBIO: And as you perceived it, while it was a request that -- he hoped you did away with it, you perceived it as an order, given his position, the setting and the like, and some of the circumstances?
RUBIO: At the time, did you say anything to the president about -- that is not an appropriate request, or did you tell the White House counsel, that is not an appropriate request, someone needs to go tell the president that he can't do these things?
COMEY: I didn't, no.
RUBIO: OK. Why?
COMEY: I don't know. I think the -- as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such that it was -- I was a bit stunned, and didn't have the presence of mind.
And I don't know -- you know, I don't want to make you -- sound like I'm Captain Courageous. I don't know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, "Sir, that's wrong." I don't know whether I would have.
COMEY: But in the moment, it -- it didn't -- it didn't come to my mind. What came to my mind is, be careful what you say. And so I said, "I agree Flynn is a good guy."
RUBIO: So, on the cloud -- we keep talking about this cloud -- you perceived the cloud to be the Russian investigation in general, correct?
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RUBIO: But the specific ask was that you would tell the American people what you had already told him, what you had already told the leaders of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans: that he was not personally under investigation.
COMEY: Yes, sir, that's how I...
RUBIO: In fact (ph), he was asking you to do what you have done here today.
COMEY: ... correct. Yes, sir.
RUBIO: OK. And again, at that setting, did you say to the president that it would be inappropriate for you to do so, and then talk to the White House counsel or anybody so hopefully they would talk to him and tell him that he couldn't do this?
COMEY: First time, I said, "I'll see what we can do." Second time, I explained how it should work, that the White House counsel should contact the deputy attorney general.
RUBIO: You told him that?
COMEY: The president said, OK, then I think that's what I'll do.
RUBIO: And just to be clear, for you to make a public statement that he was not under investigation would not have been illegal, but you felt it made no sense because it could potentially create a duty to correct, if circumstances changed?
COMEY: Yes, sir. We wrestled with it before my testimony where I confirmed that there was an investigation. And there were two primary concerns. One was it creates a duty to correct, which I've lived before, and you want to be very careful about doing that.
And second, it's a slippery slope, because if we say the president and the vice president aren't under investigation, what's the principled basis for -- for stopping?
RUBIO: OK. COMEY: And so the leadership at -- at justice, Acting Attorney General Boente, said, "You're not going to do that."
RUBIO: Now, on March 30th, during the phone call about General Flynn, you said he abruptly shifted and brought up something that you call, quote, unquote, "the McCabe thing." Specifically, the McCabe thing, as you understood it, was that McCabe's wife had received campaign money from what I assume means Terry McAuliffe...
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RUBIO: ... who (ph) was very close to the Clintons. And -- and so why did you -- had the president at any point in time expressed to you concern, opposition, potential opposition to McCabe? "I don't like this guy because he got money from someone this close to Clinton?"
COMEY: He had asked me, during previous conversations, about Andy McCabe, and said, in essence, "How's he going to be with me as president? I was pretty rough on them (ph) on the campaign trail." And...
RUBIO: He was rough on McCabe?
COMEY: ... he was -- by his own account, he said he was rough on McCabe and Mrs. McCabe on the campaign trail -- how's he going to be? And I assured the president, Andy is a total pro. No issue at all. You got to know the people of the FBI, they are not...
RUBIO: So -- so, when the president turns to you and says, "Remember, I never brought up the McCabe thing because you said he was a good guy," did you perceive that to be a statement that -- I took care of you, I -- I didn't do something because you told me he was a good guy. So now, you know, I'm asking you, potentially, for something in return? Is that how you perceived it?
COMEY: I wasn't sure what to make of it, honestly. That's possible, but it -- it was so out of context that I didn't have a clear view of what it was.
RUBIO: Now, on a number of occasions here, you bring up -- let's talk (ph) now about the general Russia investigation, OK? In page 6 of your testimony, you say -- the first thing you say is, he asked what we could do to, quote/unquote, "lift the cloud," the general Russia investigation.
And you 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 having done the work well. And he agreed. He reemphasized the problems it was causing him, but he agreed.
So, in essence, the president agreed with your statement that it would be great if we could have an investigation, all the facts came out and we found nothing. So he agreed that that would be ideal, but this cloud is still messing up my ability to do the rest of my agenda. Is that an accurate assessment of...
COMEY: Yes, sir. He actually went farther than that. He -- he said, "And if some of my satellites did something wrong, it'd be good to find that out."
RUBIO: Well, that's the second part, and that is the satellites. He said, "If (ph) one of my satellites" -- I imagine, by that, he meant some of the other people surrounding his campaign -- "did something wrong, it would be great to know that, as well"?
COMEY: Yes, sir. That's what he said.
RUBIO: So are those the other -- are those the only two instances in which that sort of back-and-forth happened, where the president was basically saying, and I'm paraphrasing here, it's OK, do the Russia investigation. I hope it all comes out. I have nothing to do with anything Russia. It'd be great if it all came out, if people around me were doing things that were wrong.
COMEY: Yes. As I -- I recorded it accurately there. That was the sentiment he was expressing. Yes, sir.
RUBIO: So what it basically (ph) comes down to is the president has asked three things of you. He asked for your loyalty, and you said you would be loyally honest.
COMEY: Honestly loyal. RUBIO: Honestly loyal. The -- the -- he asked you, on one occasion, to let the Mike Flynn thing go because he was a good guy -- but (ph) you're aware that he said the exact same thing in the press the next day. "He's a good guy," "He's been treated unfairly," et cetera, et cetera. So I imagine your FBI agents read that.
COMEY: I'm sure they did.
RUBIO: Your -- the president's wishes were known to them, certainly, by the next day, when he had a press conference with the prime minister.
RUBIO: But going back, the three requests were; number one, be loyal; number two, let the Mike Flynn thing go, he's a good guy, he's been treated unfairly; and, number three, can you please tell the American people what these leaders in Congress already know, what you already know, what you've told me three times -- that I'm not under -- personally under investigation?
COMEY: Those are the three things he asked. Yes, sir.
RUBIO: You know, this investigation is full of leaks, left and right. I mean, we've learned more from the newspapers sometimes than we do from our open hearings, for sure.
You ever wonder why, of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that's never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in (ph) the leadership of Congress knew that, and have known that for weeks?
COMEY: I don't know. I find matters that are briefed to the Gang of Eight are pretty tightly held, in my experience.
RUBIO: Finally, who are those senior leaders at the FBI that you shared these conversations with?
COMEY: As I said in response to Senator Feinstein's question, deputy director, my chief of staff, general counsel, the deputy director's chief counsel, and then, more often than not, the number three person at the FBI, who is the associate deputy director, and then, quite often, the head of the national security branch.
BURR: Senator Wyden.
WYDEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Comey, welcome. You and I have had significant policy differences over the years, particularly protecting Americans' access to secure encryption. But I believe the timing of your firing stinks.
And yesterday, you put on the record testimony that demonstrates why the odor of presidential abuse of power is so strong. Now, to my questions. In talking to Senator Warner about this dinner that you had with president, I believe, January 27th, all in one dinner, the president raised your job prospects, he asked for your loyalty and denied allegations against him -- all took place over one supper.
WYDEN: Now, you told Senator Warner that the president was looking to, quote, "get something." Looking back, did that dinner suggest that your job might be contingent on how you handled the investigation?
COMEY: I don't know that I'd go that far. I -- I got the sense my job would be contingent upon how he felt I -- excuse me -- how he felt I conducted myself and whether I demonstrated loyalty. But I don't know whether I'd go so far as to connect it to the investigation (ph).
WYDEN: You said the president was trying to create some sort of patronage relationship. In a patronage relationship isn't the underling expected to behave in a manner consistent with the wishes of the boss?
COMEY: Or at least consider how what you're doing will affect the boss as a significant consideration.
WYDEN: Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.
What was it about the Attorney General's own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
And so we were -- we were convinced -- and, in fact, I think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself -- that he was not going to be in contact with Russia- related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.
WYDEN: How would you characterize Attorney General Sessions's adherence to his recusal, in particular with regard to his involvement in your firing, which the president has acknowledged was because of the Russian investigation?
COMEY: That's a question I can't answer. I think it's a reasonable question. If -- if, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don't know, and so I don't have an answer for the question.
WYDEN: Your testimony was that the president's request about Flynn could infect the investigation. Had the president got what he wanted and what he asked of you, what would have been the effect on the investigation?
COMEY: Well we would have closed any investigation of General Flynn in connection with his statements and encounter -- statements about and encounters (ph) with Russians in the late part of December.
COMEY: So we -- we would have dropped an open criminal investigation.
WYDEN: So, in effect, when you talk about infecting the enterprise, you would have dropped something major that would have spoken to the overall ability of the American people to get the facts?
COMEY: Correct. And -- and, as good as our people are, our judgment was we don't want them hearing that the president of the United States wants this to go away, because it might have an effect of their ability to be fair and impartial and aggressive.
WYDEN: Now, the -- Acting Attorney General Yates found out that Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by the Russians, and she went immediately to warn the White House.
Flynn is gone, but other individuals with contacts with the Russians are still in extremely important positions of power. Should the American people have the same sense of urgency now, with respect to them?
COMEY: I think all I can say, Senator, is it's a -- the special counsel's investigation is very important. Understanding what efforts there were or are by the Russian government to influence our government is a critical part of the FBI's mission, so -- and you've got the right person in Bob Mueller to lead it.
So it's a very important piece of work.
WYDEN: Vice President Pence was the head of the transition. To your knowledge, was he aware of the concerns about Michael Flynn prior to or during General Flynn's tenure as national security adviser?
COMEY: I don't -- you're asking -- including up to the time when Flynn was...
WYDEN: Right (ph). COMEY: ... forced to resign? My understanding is that he was, and I'm trying to remember where I get that understanding from -- I think from Acting Attorney General Yates.
WYDEN: So former Acting Attorney General Yates testified that concerns about General Flynn were discussed with the intelligence community. Would that have included anyone at the CIA or Dan Coats's office at the DNI?
COMEY: I would assume yes.
WYDEN: Michael Flynn resigned four days after Attorney General Sessions was sworn in. Do you know if the attorney general was aware of the concerns about Michael Flynn during that period?
COMEY: I don't, as I sit here -- I don't -- I don't recall that he was. I could be wrong, but I don't remember that he was.
WYDEN: And, finally, let's see if you can give us some sense of who recommended your firing. Besides the letters from the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, do you have any information on who may have recommended or have been involved in your firing?
COMEY: I don't. I don't.
WYDEN: OK (ph).
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Senator Collins.
COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Comey, let me begin by thanking you for your voluntary compliance with our request to appear before this committee, and it's discussing (ph) this very important investigation.
I want, first, to ask you about your conversations with the president, the three conversations in which you told him that he was not under investigation.
The first was during your January 6th meeting, according to your testimony, in which it appears that you actually volunteered that assurance. Is that correct?
COMEY: That's correct.
COLLINS: Did you limit that statement to counterintelligence investigations, or were you talking about any kind of FBI investigation?
COMEY: I didn't -- I didn't use the term "counterintelligence." I was speaking to him, and briefing him about some salacious and unverified material. It was in the context of that that he had a strong and defensive reaction about that not being true. And my reading of it was it was important for me to assure him we were not personally investigating him. And so the context then was actually narrower, focused on what I had just talked to him about.
It was very important because it was, first, true. And second, I was worried very much about being in kind of a -- kind of a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation. I didn't want him thinking that I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way. I was briefing him on it because we were (ph) -- had been told by the media it was about to launch. We didn't want to be keeping that from him.
COMEY: And if there was some -- he needed to know this was being said. But I was very keen not to leave him with an impression that the bureau was trying to do something to him. And so that's the context in which I said, "Sir, we're not personally investigating you."
COLLINS: And then, on -- and that's why you volunteered the information...
COMEY: Yes, ma'am.
COLLINS: ... correct?
Then, on the January 27th dinner, you show -- you told the president that he should be careful about asking you to investigate, because, quote, "You might create a narrative that we are investigating him personally," which we weren't.
Again, were you limiting that statement to counterintelligence investigations, or more broadly, such as a criminal investigation?
COMEY: The context was very similar. I didn't -- I didn't modify the word "investigation." It was -- again, he was reacting strongly again to that unverified material, saying, "I'm tempted to order you to investigate it." And that -- in the context of that, I said "Sir, you want to be careful about that, because it might create a narrative we're investigating you personally."
COLLINS: And then there was the March 30th phone call in -- with the president, in which you reminded him that congressional leaders have been briefed that we were not personally -- the FBI was not personally investigating President Trump.
And again, was that statement to congressional leaders and to the president limited to counterintelligence investigations? Or was it a broader statement?
COLLINS: I'm trying to understand whether there was any kind of investigation of the president under way.
COMEY: No. I'm sorry, and -- and if I misunderstood, I apologize. We briefed the congressional leadership about what Americans we had opened counterintelligence investigation cases on, and we specifically said the president is not one of those Americans, but -- that there was no other investigation of the president that we were not mentioning at that time.
What (ph) -- the context was counterintelligence, but I wasn't trying to hide some criminal investigation of the president.
COLLINS: And was the president under investigation at the time of your dismissal on May 9th?
COMEY: No. COLLINS: I'd like to now turn to the conversations with the president about Michael Flynn, which have been discussed at great length. And, first, let me make very clear that the president never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go -- to let the investigation go.
But I remain puzzled by your response. Your response was, "I agree that Michael Flynn is a good guy." You could have said, "Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate. This response could compromise the investigation. You should not be making such a request."
It's fundamental to the operation of our government that the FBI be insulated from this kind of political pressure. And you've talked a bit today about that you were stunned by the president making the request.
But my question to you is, later on, upon reflection, did you go to anyone at the Department of Justice and ask them to call the White House counsel's office and explain that the president had to have a far better understanding and appreciation of his role vis-a-vis the FBI?
COMEY: In general, I did. I spoke to the attorney general, and I spoke to the new deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein, when he took office, and explained my serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI.
And I specifically, as I said my testimony, asked the -- told the attorney general, it can't happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me.
Look, in the room -- and -- and -- but why didn't we raise the specific (ph)? It was of investigative interest us to try and figure out, so -- what just happened with the president's request. So I would not have wanted to alert the White House that it had happened until we figured out, what are we going to do with this investigatively?
COLLINS: Your testimony was that you went to Attorney General Sessions and said, "Don't ever leave me alone with him again." Are you saying that you also told him that he had made a request that you let it go, with regard to part of the investigation of Michael Flynn?
COMEY: No, I specifically did not. I did not.
COLLINS: OK, you mentioned that, from your very first meeting with the president, you decided to write a memo memorializing the conversation. What was it about that very first meeting that made you write a memo, when you had not done that with two previous presidents?
COMEY: As I said, a combination of things. A gut feeling is an important overlay on it (ph). But the circumstances -- that I was alone, the subject matter, and the nature of the person that I was interacting with and my read of that person.
(UNKNOWN): The nature of that person (ph)?
COMEY: Yeah, and -- and -- and, really, just a gut feel, laying on top of all of that, that this -- it's going to be important, to protect this organization, that I make records of this.
COLLINS: And finally, did you show copies of your memos to anyone outside of the Department of Justice?
COLLINS: And to whom did you show copies?
COMEY: I asked -- the president tweeted on Friday, after I got fired, that I better hope there's not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape.
And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
COLLINS: And was that Mr. Wittes?
COMEY: No, no.
COLLINS: Who was that?
COMEY: A good friend of mine who's a professor at Columbia Law School.
COLLINS: Thank you. BURR: Senator Heinrich?
HEINRICH: Mr. Comey, prior to January 27th of this year, have you ever had a one-on-one meeting or -- or a private dinner with a president of the United States?
COMEY: No, I met -- dinner, no. I had two one-on-ones with President Obama that I laid out in my testimony: once, to talk about law enforcement issues -- law enforcement and race, which was an important topic throughout for me and for the president; and then once, very briefly, for him to say goodbye.
HEINRICH: Were those brief interactions?
COMEY: No. The one about law enforcement and race in policing, we spoke for probably over an hour, just the two of us.
HEINRICH: How unusual is it to have a -- a one-on-one dinner with the president? Did that strike you as odd?
COMEY: Yeah, so much so that I assumed there would be others -- that he couldn't possibly be having dinner with me alone.
HEINRICH: If -- do you have an impression that, if you had found -- if you had behaved differently in that dinner -- and I am quite pleased that you did not -- but if you had found a way to express some sort of expression of loyalty, or given some suggestion that the Flynn criminal investigation might be pursued less vigorously, do you think you would've still been fired?
COMEY: I don't know. I -- it's impossible to say, looking back. I don't know.
HEINRICH: But you felt like those two things were -- were directly relevant to your -- the kind of relationship that the president was seeking to establish with you?
COMEY: Sure, yes.
HEINRICH: The -- the president has repeatedly talked about the Russian investigation into the U.S. -- or the Russian -- Russia's involvement in the U.S. election cycle as a hoax and as fake news.
Can you talk a little bit about what you saw as FBI director -- and, obviously, only the parts that you can share in this setting -- that -- that demonstrate how serious this action actually was, and why there was an investigation in the first place?
COMEY: Yes, sir.
The -- there should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that.
It is a high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and -- and the members of this committee have -- have seen the intelligence. It's not a close call. That happened. That's about as un-fake as you can possibly get, and is very, very serious, which is why it's so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that, because this is about America, not about any particular party.
HEINRICH: So that was a hostile act by the Russian government against this country? COMEY: Yes, sir.
HEINRICH: Did the president, in any of those interactions that you've shared with us today, ask you what you should be doing, or what our government should be doing, or the intelligence community, to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?
COMEY: I don't recall a conversation like that.
HEINRICH: Do you -- do you find it odd...
COMEY: Not with -- not with -- not with President Trump.
COMEY: I attended a fair number of meetings on that with President Obama.
HEINRICH: Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia's actions in our election?
COMEY: I -- I can't answer that, because I don't know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. So I -- I -- I just don't know, sitting here.
HEINRICH: Did you have any interactions with the president that suggested he was taking that hostile action seriously?
COMEY: I don't remember any interactions with the president, other than the initial briefing on January the 6th. I don't remember -- could be wrong, but I don't remember any conversations with him at all about that.
HEINRICH: As you're very aware, it was only the two of you in the room for that dinner. You've told us the president asked you to back off the Flynn investigation. The president told a reporter...
COMEY: Not in that dinner.
HEINRICH: Fair enough -- told the (ph) reporter he did -- never did that. You've testified that the president asked for your loyalty in that dinner. The White House denies that. A lot of this comes down to, who should we believe? Do you want to say anything as to why we should believe you?
COMEY: Probably (ph) -- my mother raised me not to say things like this about myself, so not I'm going to. I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony, because, as I used to say to juries, and when I talked about a witness, you can't cherry-pick it. You can't say, "I like these things he said, but on this, he's a -- he's a dirty, rotten liar."
COMEY: You got to take it all together. And I've tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate. A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office?
Why would you kick the attorney general, the president (ph), the chief of staff out, to talk to me, if it was about something else? And so that -- that, to me, is -- as an investigator, is a very significant fact.
HEINRICH: And as we look at -- at testimony, or as -- communication from both of you, we should probably be looking for consistency.
COMEY: Well, in looking at any witness, you look at consistency, track record, demeanor, record over time, that sort of thing. HEINRICH: Thank you.
So there are reports that the incoming Trump administration, either during the transition and/or after the inauguration, attempted to set up a sort of back-door communication channel with the Russian government using their infrastructure, their devices or facilities.