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Continuing Coverage of Senate Intel Hearing. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-WEST VIRGINIA: Did he inquire -- did he -- did he show any inquiry whatsoever what was that meeting about?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: No. You're right, I did say to him -- I'd forgotten this -- when I talked to him and said, "You have to be between me and the president, and that's incredibly important," and I forget my exact words, I passed along the president's message about the importance of aggressively pursuing leaks of classified information, which is a -- a goal I share.
And I passed that along to -- to the attorney general, I think it was the next morning, in our -- in a meeting. And -- but I did not tell him about the Flynn part.
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.
MANCHIN: Thank you, sir.
BURR: Senator Cotton.
COTTON: Mr. Comey, you encouraged the president to release the tapes. Will you encourage the Department of Justice or your friend at Columbia or Mr. Mueller to release your memos?
COTTON: You said that there -- you did not record your conversations with President Obama or President Bush in memos. Did you do so with Attorney General Sessions or any other senior member of the Trump Department of Justice?
COTTON: Did you...
(CROSSTALK) COMEY: I think it -- I'm sorry.
COTTON: ... did you record conversations in memos with Attorney General Lynch or any other senior member of the Obama Department of Justice?
COMEY: No, not that I recall.
COTTON: In your statement for the record, you cite nine private conversations with the president, three meetings and two phone calls. There are four phone calls that are not discussed in your statement for the record. What happened in those phone calls?
COMEY: The president called me, I believe, shortly before he was inaugurated, as a follow-up to our conversation -- private conversation on January the 6th. He just wanted to reiterate his rejection of the allegation and talk about -- he thought about it more, and why he thought it wasn't true -- the -- the -- the verified -- unverified and salacious parts.
And -- and during that call, he asked me again, "Hope you're going to stay, you're doing a a great job." And I told him that I intended to. There was another phone call that I mentioned, I think was -- could have the date wrong -- March the 1st, where he called just to check in with me as I was about to get on the helicopter.
COMEY: There was a secure call we had about an -- an operational matter that was not related to any of this, about something the FBI was working on. He wanted to make sure that I understood how important he thought it was -- a totally appropriate call. And then the fourth call -- I'm probably forgetting.
May have been the -- I may have meant the call, when he called to invite me to dinner. I'll think about as I'm answering other questions, but I think I got that right.
COTTON: Let's turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia's hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?
COMEY: That's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that -- we didn't -- that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that's a question that'll be answered by the investigation, I think.
COTTON: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein. She was the ranking member on this committee until January, which means she had access to information that only she and Chairman Burr did. She's now the senior Democrat on the -- on the Judiciary Committee, meaning she has access to the FBI that most of us don't.
On May 3rd, on CNN's Wolf Blitzer's show, she was asked, "Do you believe, do you have evidence that there was in fact collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign?"
She answered, "Not at this time."
On May 18th, the same show, Mr. Blitzer said, "The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked if you had actually seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me, and I'm quoting you now -- you said, 'Not at this time.' Has anything changed since we last spoke?"
Senator Feinstein said, "Well, no. No, it hasn't." Do you have any reason to doubt those statements?
COMEY: I don't doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what -- what she understood. I just don't want to go down that path, first of all, because I'm not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry, leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting.
I don't -- I -- I want to be...
COMEY: ... I'm always trying to be fair. I don't want to be unfair to President Trump. I'm not trying to suggest, by my answer, something nefarious, but I don't want to get into the business of saying not as to this person, not as to that person.
COTTON: On February 14th, the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was, "Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence."
You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?
COTTON: Did you have, at the time that story was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?
COMEY: This one, I can't answer, sitting here.
COTTON: We can discuss that in a classified setting, then.
I want to turn attention now to Mr. Flynn and the allegations of his underlying conduct: to be specific, his alleged interactions with the Russian ambassador on the telephone, and then what he said to senior Trump administration officials and Department of Justice officials.
I understand there are other issues with Mr. Flynn, related to his receipt of foreign monies or disclosure of potential advocacy activity on behalf of foreign governments. Those are serious and credible allegations that I'm sure will be pursued, but I want to speak specifically about his interactions with the Russian ambassador.
There was a story on January 23rd in the Washington Post that says -- entitled, "FBI reviewed Flynn's calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit." Is this story accurate?
COMEY: I don't want to comment on that, Senator, because I -- I'm pretty sure the bureau has not confirmed any interception of communications. And so I don't want to talk about that in an open setting.
COTTON: Would it be improper for an incoming national security adviser to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?
COMEY: In my -- in my experience, no.
COTTON: But you can't confirm or deny that the conversation happened, and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was, in fact, improper?
COMEY: Yeah, I don't think I can talk about that in an open setting. And again, I've been out of government, now, a month, so I don't -- I also don't want to talk about things when it's now somebody's -- else's responsibility. But maybe in the -- in the classified setting, we can talk more about that.
COTTON: You stated earlier that there wasn't an open investigation of Mr. Flynn in (ph) the FBI. Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?
COMEY: I don't want to go too far. That was the subject of the criminal inquiry.
COTTON: Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?
COMEY: I don't think I can talk about that in an open setting, either.
COTTON: I can discuss these more in a closed setting, then.
Mr. Comey, in -- in 2004, you were a part of a well-publicized event about a intelligence program that had been recertified several times, and you were acting attorney general when Attorney General John Ashcroft was incapacitated due to illness. There was a dramatic showdown at the hospital here.
The next day, you've said that you wrote a letter of resignation, and signed it, before you -- went to meet with President Bush to explain why he (ph) refused to certify it. Is that accurate?
COMEY: Yes, I think so.
COTTON: At any time in the three and half months you were the FBI director during the Trump administration, did you ever write and sign a letter of recommendation, and leave it on your desk?
COMEY: Letter of resignation? No, sir.
COTTON: Letter of resignation.
COMEY: No, sir. COTTON: So despite all of the things that you've testified to here today, you didn't feel this rose to the level of an honest but serious difference of legal opinion between accomplished and skilled lawyers in that 2004 episode?
COMEY: I wouldn't characterize the circumstances of 2004 that way. But to answer, no, I -- I didn't find -- encounter any circumstance that led me to intend to resign, consider to resign. No, sir.
COTTON: Thank you.
BURR: Senator Harris.
HARRIS: Director Comey, I want to thank you. You are now a private citizen, and you are enduring a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, and each of us get seven minutes instead of five, as yesterday, to ask you questions. So thank you.
COMEY: Now I'm -- I'm between opportunities now, so...
HARRIS: Well, you're -- you are... (LAUGHTER)
... I'm sure you'll have future opportunities.
You know, you and I are both former prosecutors. Not going to require you to answer, I just want make a statement that, in -- in my -- my experience of prosecuting cases, when a robber held a gun to somebody's head, and -- and said, "I hope you will give me your wallet," the word "hope" was not the most operative word at that moment. But you don't have to respond to that point.
I have a series of questions to ask you, and -- and they're going to start with, are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?
COMEY: That's not a -- even if I remember clearly, that's a not a question I can answer in an open setting.
HARRIS: Are you aware of any efforts by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russian officials through encrypted communications or other means?
COMEY: I have to give you same answer, Senator.
In the course of the FBI's investigation, did you ever come across anything that suggested that communications, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?
COMEY: I think I've got to give you the same answer, because it -- it would touch investigative matters.
HARRIS: And are you aware of any efforts or potential efforts to conceal communications between campaign officials and Russian officials?
COMEY: I think I have to give you the same answer, Senator.
HARRIS: Thank you.
As a former attorney general, I have a series of questions about your connection with the attorney general during the course of your tenure as director.
What is your understanding of the parameters of General Sessions' recusal from the Russia -- Russia investigation?
COMEY: I think it's described in a written release or statement from DOJ, which I don't remember, sitting here, but the gist was he would be recused from all matters relating to Russia and the -- and the campaign, or activities of Russia and the '16 election, I think. Something like that.
HARRIS: Is -- so is your knowledge of the extent of his recusal based on the public statements he's made? Or the...
HARRIS: ... OK. So was there any kind of memorandum issued from the attorney general or the Department of Justice to the FBI, outlining the parameters of his recusal?
COMEY: Not that I'm aware of.
HARRIS: And do you know if he reviewed any FBI or DOJ documents pertaining to the investigation before he was recused?
COMEY: I don't. I don't know.
HARRIS: And after he was recused, I'm assuming it's the same answer.
COMEY: Same answer.
HARRIS: And as -- aside from any notice or memorandum that was not sent or was, what mechanism or processes were in place to ensure that the attorney general would not have any connection with the investigation, to your knowledge? COMEY: I don't know for sure. I know that he had consulted with career ethics officials that know how to run a recusal at DOJ, but I don't know what mechanism they set up.
HARRIS: And the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, but do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case -- of that Russia interference?
COMEY: That's something I can't answer, sitting here. It -- it's a reasonable question, but that would depend on a lot of things I don't know, like what did he know, what was he told, did he realize that the president was doing it because of the Russia investigation -- things like that. I just don't know the answer. HARRIS: You've mentioned in your written testimony and (ph) here that the president essentially asked you for a loyalty pledge. Are you aware of him making the same request of any other members of the Cabinet?
COMEY: I am not.
HARRIS: Do you know one way or another what he...
COMEY: I don't know one way or another. I never heard anything about it.
HARRIS: And you mentioned that on -- you had the conversation where he hoped that you would let the Flynn matter go on February 14th or thereabouts. It's my understanding that Mr. Sessions was recused from any involvement in the investigation about a full two weeks later.
To your knowledge, was the attorney general -- did he have access to information about the investigation in those interim two weeks?
COMEY: I -- I don't -- I -- in theory, sure, because he's the attorney general. I don't know whether he had any contact with any materials related to that.
HARRIS: To your knowledge, was there any directive that he should not have any contact with any information about the Russia investigation between the February 14th date and the day he was ultimately recused -- or recused himself, on March 2nd?
COMEY: Not to my knowledge. I don't know one way or another.
HARRIS: And did you speak to the attorney general about the Russia investigation before his recusal?
COMEY: I don't think so, no.
HARRIS: Do you know if anyone in the department, in the FBI, forwarded any documents or information or memos of any sort to the attention of the attorney general before his recusal?
COMEY: I don't -- I don't know of any, remember any, sitting here. It's possible, but I -- I don't remember any.
HARRIS: Do you know if the attorney general was involved -- in fact, involved in any aspect of the Russia investigation after his recusal on the 2nd of March?
COMEY: I don't. I would assume not, but I don't -- I don't -- let me say it this way. I don't know of any information that would lead me to believe he did something to touch the Russia investigation after the recusal.
HARRIS: In your written testimony, you indicate that you -- when you -- after you were left alone with the president, you mentioned that it was inappropriate and should never happen again to the attorney general. And, apparently, he did not reply, and you write that he did not reply. What did he do, if anything? Did he just look at you? Was there a pause for a moment? What happened?
COMEY: I -- I don't remember real clearly. I -- I have a recollection of him just kind of looking at me -- and there's a danger here I'm projecting onto him, so this may be a faulty memory -- but I kind of got -- his body language gave me the sense like, what am I going to do?
HARRIS: Did he shrug?
COMEY: I -- I don't remember clearly. I think the reason I have that impression is I have some recollection of almost an imperceptible, like, what am I going to do? But I don't have a clear recollection of that. He didn't say anything.
HARRIS: And, on that same February 14th meeting, you said you understood the president to be requesting that you drop the investigation.
After that meeting, however, you received two calls from the president -- March 30th and April 11th -- where the president talked about a cloud over his presidency.
Has anything you've learned in the months since your February 14th meeting changed your understanding of the president's request? I guess it would be what he has said in public documents or public interviews?
HARRIS: OK. And is there anything about this investigation that you believe is in any way biased or is -- is -- is not being informed by a -- a process of seeking the truth?
COMEY: No. The -- the appointment of a special counsel should offer great -- especially given who that person is -- great comfort to Americans, no matter what your political affiliation is, that this will be done independently, competently and honestly.
HARRIS: And do you believe that he should have full authority, Mr. Mueller, to be able to pursue that investigation?
COMEY: Yes, and I -- and, knowing him well over the years, if there's something that he thinks he needs, he will -- he will speak up about it.
HARRIS: Do you believe he should have full independence?
COMEY: Yeah. And he wouldn't be part of it if he wasn't going to get full independence.
HARRIS: Thank you.
BURR: Senator Cornyn. CORNYN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Comey, I'll repeat what I've said at previous hearings, that I believe you're a good and decent man who's been dealt a very difficult hand, starting back with the Clinton e-mail investigation. And I appreciate your willingness to appear here today voluntarily and answer our questions and cooperate with our investigation.
As a general matter, if an FBI agent has reason to believe that a crime has been committed, do they have a duty to report it?
COMEY: That's a good question. I don't know that there's a legal duty to report it. They certainly have a cultural, ethical duty to report it.
CORNYN: You're unsure whether they would have a legal duty?
COMEY: It's a good question. I've not thought about it (ph) before. I don't know where the legal -- there's a statute that prohibits misprision of a felony -- knowing of a felony and taking steps to conceal it -- but this is a different question.
And so, look, let me be clear, I would expect any FBI agent who has reason -- information about a crime being committed to report it.
CORNYN: Me, too.
COMEY: But where you rest that obligation, I don't know. It exists.
CORNYN: And let me ask you as a general proposition, if you're trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen? By that, I mean...
CORNYN: ... doesn't...
COMEY: It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I'm -- I'm obviously hopelessly biased, given that I was the one fired.
CORNYN: I understand it's personal.
COMEY: No (ph), given the nature of the FBI, I meant what I said. There's no indispensable people in the world, including at the FBI. That -- there's lots of bad things about me not being at the FBI. Most of them are for me. But the work's going to go on as before.
CORNYN: So nothing that's happened that you've testified to here today has impeded the investigation of the FBI or Director Mueller's commitment to get to the bottom of this, from the standpoint of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Would you agree with that?
COMEY: Correct, especially -- the appointment of Director -- Former Director Mueller is a critical part of that equation. CORNYN: Let me take you back to the Clinton e-mail investigation. I think you've been cast as a hero or a villain depending on the -- whose political ox is being gored at many different times during the course of the Clinton e-mail investigation, and even -- even now, perhaps.
But you clearly were troubled by the conduct of the sitting attorney general, Loretta Lynch, when it came to the Clinton e-mail investigation. You mentioned the characterization that you'd been asked to accept that this was a "matter" and not a criminal investigation, which you've said it -- it was.
There was the matter of President Clinton's meeting on the tarmac with the sitting attorney general, at a time when his wife was subject to a criminal investigation, and you've suggested that perhaps there are other matters that you may be able to share with us later on in a classified setting.
But it seems to me that you clearly believe that Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, had a -- an appearance of a conflict of interest on the Clinton e-mail investigation. Is that correct?
COMEY: I think that's fair. I didn't believe she could credibly decline that investigation -- at least, not without grievous damage to the Department of Justice and to the FBI.
CORNYN: And, under Department of Justice and FBI norms, wouldn't it have been appropriate for the attorney general, or, if she had recused herself -- which she did not do -- for the deputy attorney general to appoint a special counsel?
That's essentially what's happened now with Director Mueller. Would that have been an appropriate step in the Clinton e-mail investigation, in your opinion?
COMEY: Yes, certainly a possible step. Yes, sir.
CORNYN: And were you aware that Ms. Lynch had been requested numerous times to appoint a special counsel, and had refused?
COMEY: Yes, from -- I think Congress had -- members of Congress had repeatedly asked. Yes, sir.
CORNYN: Yours truly...
CORNYN: ... did on multiple occasions. And that heightened your concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest with the Department of Justice, which caused you to make what you have described as an incredibly painful decision to basically take the matter up yourself, and -- led to that July press conference.
COMEY: Yes, sir. I can -- after the -- President Clinton -- former President Clinton met on the plane with the attorney general, I considered whether I should call for the appointment of a special counsel, and had decided that that would be an unfair thing to do, because I knew there was no case there.
We had investigated very, very thoroughly. I know this is a subject of passionate disagreement, but I knew there was no case there. And calling for the appointment of special counsel would be brutally unfair because it would send the message, aha (ph), there's something here.
That was my judgment. Again, lots of people have different views of it. But that's how I thought about it.
CORNYN: Well, if the special counsel had been appointed, they could've made that determination that there was nothing there and declined to pursue it, right?
COMEY: Sure, but it would've been many months later, or a year later.
CORNYN: Let me just ask you to -- given the experience of the Clinton e-mail investigation and what happened there, do you think it's unreasonable for anyone -- any president who has been assured on multiple occasions that he's not the subject of an FBI investigation -- do you think it's unreasonable for them to want the FBI director to publicly announce that, so that this cloud over his administration would be removed?
COMEY: I think that's a reasonable point of view. The concern would be, obviously, because if that boomerang comes back, it's going to be a very big deal, because there will be a duty to correct. CORNYN: Well, we -- we saw that in the Clinton e-mail investigation, of course.
COMEY: Yes, I recall that.
CORNYN: I know you do. So let me ask you, finally, in the minute that we have left -- there was this conversation back and forth about loyalty, and I think we all appreciate the fact that an FBI director is a unique public official in the sense that he's not -- he's a political appointee in one sense, but he has a duty of independence to pursue the law pursuant to the -- the -- the constitutional laws of the United States.
And so, when the president asked you about loyalty, you got in this back-and-forth about, well, I'll pledge you my honesty. And then it looks like, from what I've read, you agreed upon honest loyalty, or something like that. Is that the characterization?
CORNYN: Thank you very much.
COMEY: Thank you, sir.
BURR: Senator Reed.
REED: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Director Comey. There have been press reports that the president, in addition to
asking you to drop the Flynn investigation, has asked other senior intelligence officials to take steps which would tend to undermine the investigation into Russia.
There have been reports that he's asked DNI Coats and Admiral Rogers to make public statements exonerating him or -- or taking the pressure off him, and also reports about Admiral Rogers and Director Pompeo -- to intervene and reach out to the FBI and ask them.
Are you aware of any of these, or do you have any information with respect to any of these allegations?
COMEY: I don't. I'm aware of the public reporting, but I had no contact, no conversation with any of those leaders about that subject.
REED: Thank you. You have testified that you interpret the discussion with the president about Flynn as a direction to stop the investigation. Is that correct?
COMEY: Yes. REED: You've testified that the president asked you to lift the cloud by essentially making public statement that exonerated him and perhaps others. You refused, correct?
COMEY: I didn't -- I didn't do it. I didn't refuse the -- the president. I told him we would see what we could do, and then the second time he called, I told him, in substance, that's something your lawyer will have to take up with the Justice Department.
REED: All right (ph). And part of the underlying logic was that we've -- we've discussed many times throughout this morning -- is the duty to correct. That is one of -- a theoretical issue, but also a very practical issue. It -- was there -- your feeling that (ph) the direction of the investigation could in fact include the president?
COMEY: Well, in theory. I mean, as I explained, the concern of one of my senior leader colleagues was, if you're looking at potential coordination between the campaign and Russia, the person at the head of the campaign is the candidate. So, logically, this person argued, the -- the candidate's knowledge, understanding, will logically become a part of your inquiry if it proceeds.
And so I understood that argument. My view was that -- that what I said to the president was accurate and fair, and fair to him. I resisted the idea of publicly saying it, although, if the Justice Department had wanted to, that -- I would've done it, because of the duty to correct and the slippery slope problem.
REED: And, again, also, you've testified that the president asked you repeatedly to be loyal to him, and you responded you would be honestly loyal, which is, I think, your way of saying, "I'll be honest, and I'll be the head of the FBI and independent." Is that fair?
COMEY: Correct. I tried "honest" first. And also, I mean, you've -- see it in my testimony -- also tried to explain to him why it's in his interest, and every president's interest, for the FBI to be apart, in a way -- because its credibility is important to a president and to the country.
And so I tried to hold the line, hold the line. It got very awkward, and I then said, "You'll always have honesty from me." He said, "honest loyalty," and then I acceded to that as a way to end this awkwardness.
REED: At the culmination of all these events, you're summarily fired, without any explanation or anything else?
COMEY: Well, there was an explanation. I just don't buy it.
REED: Well, yes. So you're fired. So do you believe that you were fired because you -- you refused to -- to take the president's direction? Is that the ultimate reason?
COMEY: I don't know for sure. I know I was fired. Again, I take the president's words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was, in some way, putting pressure on him, in some way, irritating him. And he decided to fire me because of that.
COMEY: I -- I can't go farther than that.
REED: ... the Russian investigation, as you have pointed out, and as all my colleagues have reflected, is one of the most serious hostile acts against this country in our history.
Undermining the very core of our democracy and our elections is not a discrete event. It will likely occur -- it's probably being prepared now for '18 and '20 and beyond. And yet the president of the United States fires you because, in your own words -- some relation to this investigation.
And then he shows up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, first, after classifying you as crazy and a real nut job, which I think you've effectively disproved this morning. He said, "I face great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." Your conclusion would be that the president, I would think, is downplaying the seriousness of this threat.
In fact, took specific steps to stop a thorough investigation of the Russian -- Russian influence. And also, from what you've said, or what was -- been said this morning, doesn't seem particularly interested in these hostile threats by the Russians? Is that fair?
COMEY: I don't know that I can agree to that level of detail. There's no doubt that it's a fair judgment -- it's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired, in some way, to change -- or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
That is a -- that is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me. The nature of the FBI and the nature of its work requires that it not be the subject of political consideration. And on top of that you have -- the Russia investigation itself is vital, because of the threat. And I know I should've said this earlier, but it's obvious -- if any Americans were part of helping the Russians do that to us, that is a very big deal. And I'm confident that, if that is the case, Director Mueller will find that evidence.
REED: Finally, the president tweeted that James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press. Was that a rather unsubtle attempt to intimidate you from testifying, and intimidate anyone else who seriously crosses his path -- of not doing it?
COMEY: I -- I'm not going to sit here and try and interpret the president's tweets. It -- to me, its major impact was -- as I said, occurred to me in the middle of the night -- holy cow, there might be tapes. And if there tapes, it's not just my word against his on -- on the direction to get rid of the Flynn investigation.
REED: Thank you very much.
BURR: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: In the case of -- Hillary Clinton, you made the statement that