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Comey Asserts He Was Fired Because Of Russia Investigation

Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017.
Associated Press
Former FBI director James Comey speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017.

Former FBI Director James Comey asserted Thursday that President Donald Trump fired him to interfere with his investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election and its ties to the Trump campaign.

"It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Comey told the Senate intelligence committee in explosive testimony that threatened to undermine Trump's presidency.

"I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted," Comey testified under oath. "That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me."

Comey also accused the Trump administration of spreading "lies, plain and simple" about him and the FBI in the aftermath of his abrupt firing last month, declaring that the administration then "chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI" by claiming the bureau was in disorder under his leadership.

RELATED: Comey Opening Statement For Senate Intelligence Hearing, Annotated

And in testimony that exposed deep distrust between the president and the veteran lawman, Comey described intense discomfort about their one-on-one conversations, saying he decided he immediately needed to document the discussions in memos.

"I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it really important to document," Comey said. "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."

The revelations came as Comey delivered his much anticipated first public telling of his relationship with Trump, speaking at a packed Senate intelligence committee hearing that brought Washington and parts of the country to a standstill as all eyes were glued to screens showing the testimony.

PBS News Hour Comey Senate Hearing

The former director immediately dove into the heart of the fraught political controversy around his firing and whether Trump interfered in the bureau's Russia investigation, as he elaborated on written testimony delivered Wednesday.

In that testimony he had already disclosed that Trump demanded his "loyalty" and directly pushed him to "lift the cloud" of investigation by declaring publicly the president was not the target of the FBI probe into his campaign's Russia ties.

Comey said that he declined to do so in large part because of the "duty to correct" that would be created if that situation changed.

Comey also said in his written testimony that Trump, in a strange private encounter near the grandfather clock in the Oval Office, pushed him to end his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Comey the key question:

"Do you believe this rises to obstruction of justice?"

"I don't know. That's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out," Comey responded, referring to the newly appointed special counsel who has taken over the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

Comey's Prepared Remarks
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

In a startling disclosure, Comey revealed that after his firing he actually tried to spur the special counsel's appointment by giving one of his memos about Trump to a friend of his to release to the press.

"My judgment was I need to get that out into the public square," Comey said. Trump's private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, seized on Comey's affirmation that he told Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Though Comey said he interpreted Trump's comments as a directive to shut down the Flynn investigation, Kasowitz also maintained in his written statement that Comey's testimony showed that the president "never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr. Comey 'let Flynn go.'"

The Republican National Committee and other White House allies worked feverishly to lessen any damage from the hearing, trying to undermine Comey's credibility by issuing press releases and even ads pointing to a past instance where the FBI had had to clean up the director's testimony to Congress.

Republicans and Trump's own lawyer seized on Comey's confirmation, in his written testimony, of Trump's claim that Comey had told him three times the president was not directly under investigation.

Trump himself was expected to dispute Comey's claims that the president demanded loyalty and asked the FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, according to a person close to the president's legal team who demanded anonymity because of not being authorized to discuss legal strategy.

President Trump's lawyer responds to Comey testimony

The president has not yet publicly denied the specifics of Comey's accounts but has broadly challenged his credibility, tweeting last month Comey "better hope there are no 'tapes'" of the conversations.

"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey remarked at one point Thursday, suggesting such evidence would back up his account over any claims from the president.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked the question that many Republicans have raised in the weeks since Comey's firing as one media leak followed another revealing Comey's claims about Trump's inappropriate interactions with him.

Discussing the Oval Office meeting where Comey says Trump asked him to back off Flynn, Feinstein asked: "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong,'?"

"That's a great question," Comey said. "Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation I just took it in."

RELATED: Comey Was Asking For More Resources To Pursue Russia Investigation Before Trump Fired Him

The hearing unfolded amid intense political interest, and within a remarkable political context as Comey delivered detrimental testimony about the president who fired him, a president who won election only after Comey damaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the final days of the campaign.

Clinton has blamed her defeat on Comey's Oct. 28 announcement that he was re-opening the investigation of her email practices. "If the election were on Oct. 27, I would be your president," Clinton said last month.

Thursday's hearing included discussion of that email investigation, as Comey disclosed that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch instructed him to refer to the issue as a "matter," not an "investigation."

"That concerned me because that language tracked how the campaign was talking about the FBI's work and that's concerning," Comey said. "We had an investigation open at the time so that gave me a queasy feeling."

Many Democrats still blame Comey for Clinton's loss, leading Trump to apparently believe they would applaud him for firing Comey last month.

The opposite was the case as the firing created an enormous political firestorm that has stalled Trump's legislative agenda on Capitol Hill and taken over Washington.

Under questioning Thursday, Comey strongly asserted the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia did indeed meddle in the 2016 election.

"There should be no fuzz on this. The Russians interfered," Comey stated firmly. "That happened. It's about as unfake as you can possibly get."

Trump has begrudgingly accepted the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered with the election. But he has also suggested he doesn't believe it, saying Russia is a "ruse" and calling the investigation into the matter a "witch hunt."

Comey: Trump Administration Spread 'Lies, Plain And Simple'
Comey: Trump Administration Spread 'Lies, Plain And Simple' GUEST: Chuck LaBella, former acting U.S. Attorney, Southern District of California

Our top story now former FBI director James Comey has told the world that he believes President Trump tried to interfere with the agency's Russia investigation. He believes the reason he was fired was over the Russian investigation and he may have records because he was concerned that Trump might lie. I was concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it was really important to document. Those things I never experienced before. What happens now as the intelligence committee and the American public digests the James Comey testimony questioning test? 20 me is Chuck LaBella. -- Joining me is Chuck LaBella. Welcome back to the show. Good to be back. We were prepared for some of the things that we heard today because his opening statement was released yesterday in the area of focus was whether he felt the president was ordering him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States with me alone sing I hope this. That is the focus of those who say that the president tried to obstruct justice. In your opinion, did call me make that case today? I think he started the case but it is a very difficult case to make. I think a critical thing that you saw today was that nobody attacked James Comey is not telling the truth. You've seen Senate hearings before. The one that comes to mind is filled Thomas in which both sides attacked one or the other is not telling the truth. Nobody suggested that James Comey was lying. Or the interpreting what he said to you. They both gave their spins but I think this is very early in I think obstruction is a difficult case to prove. So I don't think the case was made today. I think there is groundwork that was laid as to questions that need to be answered. I don't think any case was made today. There is a person that came out and said strongly that he thought that James Comey was not telling the truth and that is Mr. Trump's lawyer. He said that he made a number of statements including the president felt vindicated by James Comey's testimony this morning and also made a case that he link the substance of his nose because he hoped special counsel would be appointed in he now says that James Comey is the leaker that President Trump has been railing against throughout his presidency. Today Mr. James Comey admitted that he made on authorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president. At the end of the day, I don't think it matters a lot because what really matters is the fact that James Comey was so uncomfortable in those conversations and they were so typical of the conversations you have in that position that he felt compelled to make notes in that I think is the overall headline that he believed he had to make notes because it was so awkward and so atypical and made them so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to make notes. Some centers pointed that out and said if you felt so uncomfortable, why did you not tell somebody or why weren't you more forceful in rebuking what you believe was a presence attempt to interfere in this investigation? Do you wonder that also? I do a little bit but not really. If you put yourself in that situation where you are hit in the face with something you don't expect. They are removed from the room and you are there alone with the president of the United States and he says something to you that is very uncomfortable, I don't know that I would've had their wherewithal to act that way. I think that he was surprised. I think he said he was shocked and dismayed. Sometimes those things don't fully think in until after the meeting and you become reflective about it. I think when he said he went to his car and grabbed his classified computer and wrote down notes, I think that's when it hit him that what just happened was not normal. You worked in the same office as James Comey. What did you make of his demeanor today. He was the James Comey that I always knew. He is a regular person he is honest and genuine and he believes what he believes. Some may question his judgment calls on certain things about making disclosures during the campaign. You can question his judgment but I don't think you can question his honesty. I don't think anybody did today. You testified before what kind of preparation goes into a hearing like this? That is interesting. The Department of Justice before I spoke went through a mock question-and-answer and they don't tell you what to say and they don't suggest answers. They just say these are the type of questions so you're likely to get. There is no way to prepare. You just have to go in there as he did and respond to the questions. And not try to outthink the questioner or outthink the motives and try to get to an agenda but just answer the questions as best as you can. James Comey said that he said that the president was not personally under investigation by the FBI at the time they were speaking. Were the reasons he gave for making those claims reasonable to you? They were reasonable. I think they are curious. Again he was put into a situation where there's no training for the situation. There's no preparedness. You are just thrown into the fire and you need to deal with it at the time so James Comey made a judgment call at the moment thinking that it was the best interest of everyone to disclose that and say he wasn't a subject of the national security investigation. He made that judgment call. I've been speaking with Chuck LaBella. Thank you. Thank you.