James Comey says he believes he lost his job as head of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation because of its investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections.
Comey served as the FBI’s director until last month. Then President Donald Trump ordered his dismissal.
Comey met with a U.S. Senate committee Thursday. He accused Trump of not being truthful when he said he fired Comey because FBI agents no longer trusted his leadership and that the agency was in disarray.
"Those were lies, plain and simple."
Comey went further than he did in written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those written statements were released on Wednesday.
In the earlier testimony, the former FBI director said he and the president spoke about Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Comey said Trump told him that he hoped he would drop an investigation into Flynn’s possible connections to Russian officials.
Comey remembered the president saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.” He also said that Trump told him during a private White House dinner: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
That was troubling, Comey said, because the FBI is supposed to operate independently of the president.
Separately, Trump’s personal lawyer, Mark Kasowitz, denied that the president ever demanded loyalty from Comey.
But he said Comey’s testimony confirmed the president “was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference” with the 2016 elections.
After testifying for about 2 1/2 hours, Comey met in private with committee members. They said he would be asked about issues related to “classified” information that could not be discussed in public.
Is Hope the Same as an Order?
Idaho Senator James Risch is a member of the committee and, like Trump, belongs to the Republican Party. Risch asked Comey if hoping that something would be done is the same as ordering him to take action.
Comey said it is different when the U.S. president makes the request.
“This is a president of the United States with me alone, saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.”
Comey said he was so concerned with one-on-one discussions with the president that he decided to follow up the meetings by writing reports on what was discussed.
“I knew there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened not only to defend myself, but to protect the FBI,” he said. Comey said he was “honestly concerned" that the president "might lie about the nature” of their meetings.
Comey said he had given his reports to Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who last month was appointed to lead an independent federal investigation. Mueller is exploring possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Earlier, Comey had said the Russian interference with the vote was done to hurt the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
Asking a Friend to Release Information
Comey told the Senate committee about his actions after being fired. He said he asked a friend to give one of his reports about his meetings with Trump to a reporter. Comey said he hoped the information might lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor.
On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did exactly that, appointing Mueller to the position of special counsel.
Trump Lawyer Criticizes Comey’s Leaks
Kasowitz, Trump’s lawyer, criticized Comey’s statement that he had asked a friend to give information about his talks with Trump to a reporter. Kasowitz said there are people in government, in his words, “attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications.”
“Comey has now admitted that he is one of the leakers,” Kasowitz said.
Last month, Trump commented on his conversations with Comey. He tweeted that Comey “better hope there are no tapes of their conversations.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey told the Intelligence Committee.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, asked Comey a question that Republicans have been raising since his firing.
If he felt that Trump’s requests were wrong, Feinstein asked, “why didn’t you stop and say, ‘Mr. President, this is wrong?”
“It’s a great question. Maybe, if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in. The only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind -- 'cause I could remember every word he said - I was playing in my mind what should my response be. That’s why I carefully chose the words.”
The former FBI director would not say if he thought Trump could be charged with a crime. “That's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out,” he said.
At the White House, Trump administration official Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Comey’s statement that Trump had lied about his firing.
“No, I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” she said. “It’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”
President Trump has often taken to Twitter to criticize the Russian investigation. He did not do so during the hearing on Thursday. But his son, Donald Jr., did. He criticized Comey for saying his father was ordering him to stop investigating Flynn, when it was just a request.
“Knowing my father for 39 years when he 'orders or tells' you to do something there is no ambiguity, Donald Trump Jr. said. “You will know exactly what he means."
I'm Bruce Alpert
And I'm Anne Ball.
Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on stories from VOANews.com, the Associated Press, Reuters and other sources. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
disarray - adj. a confused or messy condition
plain - adj. easy to see or understand
further - adv. to a greater degree or extent
testimony - n. something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth
probe - n. an investigation
classified - adv. information that is supposed to be kept secret from the public
leak - n. providing information that was not previously known to a reporter
privileged - adj. conversations that are supposed to remain private
sort that out - phrase, determine what the facts are
definitively - adv. not able to be argued about or changed: final and settled