Comey ac­cuses Trump of re­peated lies

Ousted FBI di­rec­tor tells Se­nate he made notes of all con­ver­sa­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

Cap­ping one of the most an­tic­i­pated Capi­tol Hill con­fronta­tions in years, fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey told a Se­nate panel on Thurs­day that he hopes there are Oval Of­fice tapes to back up his as­ser­tion that Pres­i­dent Trump asked him to drop the probe into for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, say­ing he feared the pres­i­dent would lie about their pri­vate ex­changes.

In a riv­et­ing nearly three-hour ses­sion that pro­vided am­mu­ni­tion both for the pres­i­dent and for his de­trac­tors, Mr. Comey di­rectly ac­cused Mr. Trump of ly­ing about why he was dis­missed and said he in­ter­preted Mr. Trump’s com­ments in a one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion as a “di­rec­tion” to quash the FBI probe into Mr. Flynn’s ties to Rus­sia. He said he was also con­vinced that he was fired by Mr. Trump be­cause he re­fused to drop the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But Mr. Comey con­ceded that he re­ceived no di­rect or­der to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­knowl­edged that he was stunned and did not raise his ob­jec­tions to Mr. Trump’s re­marks, and re­vealed that he pur­posely leaked his con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous memos on their con­ver­sa­tions af­ter his fir­ing last month ex­plic­itly in the hopes of forc­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment to ap­point a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor to look into the Trump cam­paign’s Rus­sia ties. Mr. Comey would not say Mr. Trump tried to ob­struct jus­tice. He de­ferred

that judg­ment to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Mr. Comey in­sisted that any se­cret record­ing of his deal­ings with the pres­i­dent — which Mr. Trump hinted could ex­ist in a Twit­ter post last month — would back up his ver­sion.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Mr. Comey said.

Asked di­rectly by Sen. An­gus King, Maine in­de­pen­dent, if Mr. Trump’s an­swer to a re­porter that he had never tried to in­ter­fere in the Flynn probe was ac­cu­rate, Mr. Comey said sim­ply, “I don’t be­lieve it is.”

Mr. Trump stayed un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally si­lent through­out the day, but his at­tor­ney, Marc Ka­sowitz, spoke to re­porters shortly af­ter the open hear­ing of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. Mr. Ka­sowitz said Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony proved that Mr. Trump never col­luded with the Krem­lin dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign.

“Con­trary to nu­mer­ous false press ac­counts lead­ing up to to­day’s hear­ing,” Mr. Ka­sowitz said, “Mr. Comey has now fi­nally con­firmed pub­licly what he re­peat­edly told the pres­i­dent pri­vately: The pres­i­dent was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion as part of any probe into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence.”

He di­rectly chal­lenged other parts of Mr. Comey’s de­tail-rich tes­ti­mony, deny­ing Mr. Comey’s con­tention that Mr. Trump re­peat­edly asked for his loy­alty or that he even hinted that the Flynn probe should be dropped.

“The pres­i­dent never, in form or sub­stance, di­rected or sug­gested that Mr. Comey stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing any­one, in­clud­ing sug­gest­ing that Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go,’” said Mr. Ka­sowitz, who did not take ques­tions from re­porters af­ter read­ing the state­ment.

Still, the fired di­rec­tor de­scribed a twisted and un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship with a pres­i­dent he ap­peared to deeply dis­trust from the be­gin­ning — one rea­son he be­gan to take notes of ev­ery one of his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump.

In some of his most pointed words, Mr. Comey flatly re­jected the White House’s ini­tial ex­pla­na­tion for his May 9 fir­ing.

“Al­though the law re­quired no rea­son at all to fire an FBI di­rec­tor, the ad­min­is­tra­tion then chose to de­fame me, and more im­por­tantly the FBI, by say­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion was in dis­ar­ray, that it was poorly led, that the work­force had lost con­fi­dence in its leader,” Mr. Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and sim­ple.”

The ac­counts of Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey clashed on even the small­est of mat­ters. The pres­i­dent told NBC in­ter­viewer Lester Holt that Mr. Comey called him to have din­ner to­gether at their fate­ful first meet­ing af­ter Mr. Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary. Mr. Comey said Thurs­day that it was Mr. Trump who called him with the in­vi­ta­tion, adding he had to break a date with his wife to at­tend the din­ner.

There were some un­com­fort­able mo­ments for Democrats as well. Mr. Comey re­counted how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to shape the tone of his crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email scan­dal, with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch suc­cess­fully pres­sur­ing the bureau to call the probe a “mat­ter,” not an “in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The hottest spotlight

In a Se­nate hear­ing room filled be­yond ca­pac­ity — peo­ple were re­port­edly lin­ing up for the lim­ited num­ber of pub­lic seats at 4 a.m. — law­mak­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic ac­knowl­edged that they were ea­ger to hear di­rectly from Mr. Comey. The com­mit­tee’s un­prece­dented ninth pub­lic hear­ing of the year was packed with in­ter­na­tional press and broad­cast live on sev­eral ma­jor net­works, draw­ing com­par­isons to hear­ings over Water­gate and the Iran-Con­tra af­fair.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Burr, North Carolina Repub­li­can, started the pro­ceed­ings by point­ing out dis­putes be­tween Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple need to hear your side of the story, just as they need to hear the pres­i­dent’s de­scrip­tion of events,” Mr. Burr said.

While Mr. Comey spoke with­out notes and sat alone at the wit­ness ta­ble, Preet Bharara, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York who was dis­missed by Mr. Trump in March, was seated nearby.

The com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Vir­ginia, in­sisted that the hear­ing was not an at­tempt to at­tack the pres­i­dent but to get to the bot­tom of Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s be­hav­ior in light of the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Let me be clear: This is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news. It is an ef­fort to pro­tect our coun­try from a new threat that will not go away any­time soon,” Mr. Warner said.

He asked Mr. Comey about the pub­lic “smear” of his char­ac­ter dur­ing and af­ter his dis­missal from the FBI and asked him to ex­plain whey he doc­u­mented his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump in such de­tailed memos.

“The cir­cum­stances, the sub­ject mat­ter and the per­son I was in­ter­act­ing with” were all fac­tors, Mr. Comey said. He added that he was alone with the pres­i­dent-elect dis­cussing weighty and sen­si­tive mat­ters, and he had doubts about the man he was deal­ing with.

From their first en­counter, “I was hon­estly con­cerned that [Mr. Trump] might lie about the na­ture of our meet­ing, and so I thought it was im­por­tant to doc­u­ment it,” Mr. Comey said.

Over­all al­le­ga­tions?

Re­views on Mr. Comey’s highly an­tic­i­pated ap­pear­ance — and its im­pact on the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the Trump pres­i­dency — were de­cid­edly mixed.

Democrats who had slammed Mr. Comey for his han­dling of the Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion em­braced him as a star wit­ness and paragon of in­tegrity. But other than re-en­forc­ing the im­age of the pres­i­dent as un­re­li­able — which most Democrats al­ready be­lieve — Mr. Comey’s of­ten am­bigu­ous ac­counts and ten­ta­tive con­clu­sions pro­vided lit­tle trac­tion for talk of le­gal ac­tion or even an im­peach­ment drive against the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent.

There were also sev­eral un­com­fort­able mo­ments for the press that has cov­ered the story ex­haus­tively, and vin­di­ca­tion for Trump sup­port­ers who com­plain that too many of the most sen­sa­tional sto­ries are based on uniden­ti­fied, un­re­li­able sources.

Sev­eral ma­jor news out­lets pre­dicted that Mr. Comey would not back Mr. Trump’s claims that he was told three times he was not a source of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the for­mer FBI chief cor­rob­o­rated the bulk of Mr. Trump’s ac­count.

Mr. Comey also dis­missed a ma­jor New York Times scoop claim­ing his cam­paign re­peat­edly con­tacted Rus­sian agents.

“In the main — it was not true,” Mr. Comey said of the story.

He also re­fused to clearly cat­e­go­rize his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump as ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

‘Not in those words’

About an hour into the hear­ing, Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Repub­li­can, pressed Mr. Comey about the ex­act word­ing of Mr. Trump’s re­quest for him to drop the Flynn probe. Mr. Risch fo­cused on the am­bi­gu­ity of the words Mr. Comey says Mr. Trump used in his memos.

“Did he di­rect you to let it go?” Mr. Risch asked.

“Not in those words,” Mr. Comey replied.

Mr. Comey fur­ther ex­plained that Mr. Trump asked for “loy­alty” and that he found it “very dis­turb­ing.” But he de­clined to say whether he con­sid­ered the re­quest an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Mr. Comey’s writ­ten tes­ti­mony to the com­mit­tee, re­leased Wed­nes­day, de­tailed memos that the for­mer di­rec­tor kept, de­scrib­ing a num­ber of what he deemed trou­bling in­ter­ac­tions with the pres­i­dent.

Mr. Comey ac­knowl­edged they had a rough first in­ter­ac­tion on Jan. 6, dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion, when the FBI di­rec­tor went to brief Mr. Trump on a “sala­cious” but un­sub­stan­ti­ated memo com­piled by a for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial claim­ing Mr. Trump had hired pros­ti­tutes and en­gaged in un­usual sex­ual prac­tices in a Rus­sian ho­tel.

“Our re­la­tion­ship didn’t get off to a great start given the con­ver­sa­tion I had to have on Jan. 6,” Mr. Comey said.

When se­na­tors in­quired about the anti-Trump dossier, Mr. Comey de­clined to com­ment in a pub­lic set­ting.

Mr. Comey re­vealed for the first time that he had turned over the memos to Mr. Mueller and men­tioned the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion sev­eral times.

“That’s Bob Mueller’s job to sort that out,” he said in re­sponse to one of the ques­tions re­gard­ing ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

On the way out of the hear­ing, many Repub­li­cans were heard say­ing they hoped Wash­ing­ton could now move on and give Mr. Trump a chance to do his job with­out Rus­sian elec­tion probes dis­tract­ing him. Democrats, mean­while, sounded like they were gear­ing up to hear what Mr. Mueller might do next.

HIS SIDE: For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, tes­ti­fy­ing Thurs­day be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee, said Pres­i­dent Trump pressed him for “loy­alty” and pushed him to de­clare pub­licly that he was not the tar­get of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his cam­paign’s Rus­sia ties.

Marc Ka­sowitz, a per­sonal at­tor­ney of Pres­i­dent Trump, re­sponded to the con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony of for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey on Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.