Comey: Trump Tried to Create “Patronage” Relationship
Former FBI Director James Comey delivered testimony on conversations with President Donald Trump prior to being fired, saying Trump was trying to establish a “patronage” relationship.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence questioned Comey on Thursday about memos he wrote following five conversations with the president, one involving a “chilling” request to drop the investigation into former Attorney General Michael Flynn and accounts of his interactions with Russia, another requesting “loyalty.”
Comey was fired by President Trump on May 9.
When asked why he believed he was fired, he said “I take the President by his word” that he was in some way “frustrated” by the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
When asked whether he believes the Russians did interfere, Comey said he had “no doubt.”
“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever, the Russians interfered,” he said. “We are talking about a foreign government using technical advancements to shape the way we vote, the way we think.”
Comey said he believes Russian interference in the 2016 election, may have set a precedent.
“This was long-term,” he said. “They will be back.”
Regarding the president’s tweet following Comey’s termination, which read “James Comey Better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations,” Comey said he hoped Mister Trump did have some.
Urging the president to “Release all the tapes.”
The tweet motivated Comey to release a series of memos—written following personal conversations with the president—to the press. The documents delved into greater detail on the “patronage” relationship he thought Mister Trump had attempted to establish with him, and became a central component of his testimony before the select committee Thursday.
Two senators asked Comey whether he had ever written memos about conversations with senior staff of other presidents before. He replied that he had not.
Comey said he felt the need to for a “combination” of reasons, including the fact that he was alone, the content of the conversations, and the fact that they were between himself and the president.
According to on-the-record testimony, January 27 saw Mister Trump ask the then FBI Director to dinner in the Green Room at the White House. Comey canceled plans with his wife, which he said, he would come to regret.
The dinner date was an “unusual” occurrence, said Senator Martin Heinrich, since it was one-on-one. Comey said he thought there would be others, but instead found it would just be himself and the president.
There, the president asked if Comey wanted to stay on as FBI director, despite twice saying he hoped Comey would in different interactions.
Comey said he thought the president “wanted me to ask for my job and create a patronage relationship.”
He claims he explained the need for the FBI to remain independent of the White House.
Later in the conversation, he said Mister Trump asked for “honest loyalty.”
President seeks reassurance
On three separate occasions, Comey felt the need to reassure President Trump that the investigation into Russia was not an investigation into him.
Once, during a January 6 briefing on Russia—the only “serious” conversation Comey had with President Trump on the Russian interference—Comey said he felt the need to tell President Trump he was not in fact under investigation because of Mister Trump’s strong “reaction” to the information in the briefing.
Comey said the statement was true, but he would not release it as a public announcement since Trump was a candidate for the presidency.
He advised President Trump to have a lawyer take it up with the Justice Department.
Meanwhile, the president continues to refer to the alleged Russian interference as “fake news.”
Flynn is “a good guy”
Comey’s “chilling” conversation with President Trump happened on February 14 in the Oval Office. He recorded the conversation in a memo because he was “concerned” about its content and believed he needed a record to “defend the FBI” and the institution’s “integrity.”
In the memo, Comey recorded from memory, he claims Mister Trump had him remain, following a scheduled counter-terrorism briefing involving five others.
According to Comey, the president urged him to drop the probe into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“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.”
Comey simply replied, “I agree he’s a good guy.”
The former director said on Thursday he took the request as a directive to drop the investigation—one the president of the United States should not have been making.
He later told the attorney general never to leave him alone with the president again.
Each senator was allowed seven minutes for questions, with some asking why Comey never cautioned the president about the inappropriate nature of the comments and the central request of their meeting.
Senator Susan Collins said “I remain puzzled by your response.”
Comey said the circumstances “stunned” him and it “didn’t’t come to mind” to say no. “What came to mind was, careful what you say.”