‘Trump tried to undermine Russia probe’
White House told lies – Comey
FORMER FBI director James Comey yesterday accused US President Donald Trump of firing him in a bid to undermine the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign team and Russia.
Trump dismissed Comey on May9 and the administration gave differing reasons for the action. Trump later contradicted his own staff and acknowledged on May 11 that he had fired Comey because of the Russia probe.
Asked at a US congressional hearing why he was fired, Comey said he did not know for sure. But he added: “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 earlier told the Senate Intelligence Committee in the most eagerly anticipated US congressional hearing in years that he believed Trump had directed him to drop an FBI probe into the Republican president’s former national security adviser as part of the Russia investigation.
But Comey would not say whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice.
Comey said the administration had told lies and defamed him and the FBI after the president dismissed him on May 9.
Comey has said Trump asked him in February to drop an FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct.
“I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Russia issue has dogged Trump’s first months in office, distracting from his policy agenda such as overhauling the US healthcare system and making tax cuts.
Comey’s accusations could further mire Trump’s administration in legal difficulties, as special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional committees investigate alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
Russia has denied such interference and the White House has denied any collusion.
Trump triggered a political firestorm when he dismissed Comey, and Democrats accused the president of trying to limit the Russia probe.
The former FBI head said Trump’s administration had defamed him in comments made after his firing by saying that the bureau was in disarray and that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said.
Comey said Trump did not attempt to get him to drop the overall Russia investigation, just the part of if that related to Flynn, who the president fired in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia’s ambassador to the US.
Trump critics say that any efforts by the president to hinder an FBI probe could amount to obstruction of justice. Some legal experts said Comey’s testimony could strengthen any impeachment case in Congress to remove Trump from office built on an allegation of obstruction of justice.
At one point in the hearing, Republican Senator James Risch pressed Comey on whether Trump had actually directed him to drop the Flynn investigation.
Comey said: “I took it as a direction. If it is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying ‘I hope this’ I took it as ‘this is what he wants me to do’.
“I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”
Former FBI Director James Comey.