Ex-FBI chief Comey: Many news stories about Russia are ‘just dead wrong’
In an unusual move, the committee released Comey's prepared remarks on Wednesday afternoon. The seven-page document outlines his relationship with Trump, some details of which had already been leaked to the press in the weeks following his firing, including that the president asked Comey for his loyalty.
Trump fired Comey on May 9, faulting him for failing to find intelligence community leakers feeding information to the media.
Speaking before Comey, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA), said the hearing is not a "witch hunt" or “fake news," but rather an effort to protect the US from a "new threat" which will not be going away anytime soon.
Early in his remarks, Comey said that although understood when he was hired in 2013 that he "could be fired by the president for any reason or no reason at all," the "shifting explanations" he was told after his termination "confused me and increasingly concerned me."
He said that President Trump repeatedly told him that he had "talked to lots of people" about him, and that he had learned Comey was doing a "great job."
“So it confused me when I saw on TV that the president fired me because of the Russian investigation," he said.
He accused the Trump administration of choosing to "defame me and, more importantly, the FBI," by saying they had lost confidence in him.
When it came to alleged Russian interference, Comey said he had "no doubt" that Russians attempted to interfere in 2016 election, or that they were behind the hacking of the DNC, or the intrusion into voting systems.
Comey was asked explicitly whether Trump asked him to stop the Russia investigation, to which Comey responded by saying "not to my understanding, no."
He then went on to say that he had not been asked by anyone to end the investigation.
However, Comey said he takes the president "at his word" that he was fired "because of the Russian investigation."
Comey didn't mince his words when speaking about allegations against Russian interference in the election.
"There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election…it is the high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community...it’s not a close call.That happened.”
Comey said the alleged Russian interference was not a one-off, but said it's a "long-term practice of theirs...they'll be back."
Comey accused the Russian embassy in Washington, DC of employing a "robust cohort of intelligence operatives," but said he doesn't consider the Russian ambassador to the US to be an intelligence officer.
"He's a diplomat," he said.
When asked whether he believes Trump colluded with Russia, Comey said he doesn't think he should answer that in an open setting.
"That's a question that will be answered by the investigation, I think."
Comey admitted, however, that it was fair to say that a February 14 New York Times article which alleged that Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russians was "almost entirely wrong."
He also said there have been many stories about Russia which are "just dead wrong," but failed to elaborate.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Comey to confirm that the president asked three things of him: Be loyal; let the Mike Flynn investigation go; and tell the American people that he (Trump) was not personally under investigation.
When Comey was asked whether it was unreasonable for Trump to want the FBI director to publicly announce he was not under investigation, Comey said: "I think that's a reasonable point of view."
Comey did confirm during the hearing, however, that Trump was not under investigation during his time at the FBI.
The former FBI director said he shared Trump’s three requests for him with the deputy director of the FBI and his counsel, the chief of staff, general counsel, and the number 3 person at the FBI, the head of the national security branch.
Comey also relayed a meeting he had with Trump in the Trump Tower on January 6, saying he felt the need to create a written record of the meeting due to "circumstances, subject matter, and the person I was interacting with (Trump)."
"I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting," he said, speaking of Trump, who was still president-elect at the time of the meeting.
"I think I did it after each of our nine conversations. I knew that there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened, to defend not just myself, but the FBI and our integrity," Comey said.
When asked by a senator whether the meeting with Trump was the only presidential meeting he ever felt the need to create a written record for, Comey said "that's right."
Comey admitted he took one written record to the outside, asking a friend who was a professor at Columbia Law "to share the content of the memo with a reporter," hoping it would prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
The former FBI director went on to describe a situation in which the president whispered in his ear that he was "really looking forward to working" with him.
He then said that he got the feeling that Trump was "looking to get something in exchange for letting me stay in my job."
However, Comey later seemed to backtrack on that statement.
“I don't know I would go that far. I got sense my job would be contingent on how he felt I conducted myself and whether I demonstrated loyalty," he said, when asked about the previous statement he had made.
Referencing the probe into ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, Comey recalled that Trump said: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go."
Comey explained the controversy as being whether Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Russians.
"What he wanted me to do is drop any investigation connected to Flynn’s account of his contacts with the Russians," Comey said.
The former FBI director claims that Trump cleared the Oval Office at one point, asking him to drop the Flynn investigation.
When asked why he didn't tell Trump that such moves were inappropriate, Comey said he did speak with the attorney-general and the new deputy attorney-general.
"I told the attorney-general, it can't happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me."
He went on to say that he "didn't want to alert the White House until I figured out what we were going to do with this” in an investigative sense."
However, Comey said he didn’t tell the attorney-general that Trump had told him to "let it go" when it came to the Flynn investigation.
Comey also said he believed the attorney-general should not be excluded in conversations between he and Trump, as the FBI director reports to the attorney-general.
"I told the attorney-general he should be between me and the White House," Comey said.
He admitted, however, that he took calls from Trump after making that statement to the attorney-general.
When it came to the Hillary Clinton email probe, Comey said he didn't see how former Attorney-Genral Loretta Lynch could "credibly decline that investigation" without damage to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI.
He was also asked whether he would have been fired if Hillary Clinton had become president, to which he responded "I don't know."