WASHINGTON (AP) — Former FBI Director James Comey will testify that President Donald Trump sought his “loyalty” and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” of investigation shadowing his White House, according to prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Comey will also tell lawmakers that he informed Trump that he was not personally under investigation, validating the president’s previous claims that he was not the target of the probe into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Comey will say that the FBI and Justice Department were reluctant to state that publicly “because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”
Comey’s testimony will be his first public comments since Trump abruptly fired him on May 9. The seven-page remarks released Wednesday reveal in dramatic detail, and with a writer’s flair, Comey’s uneasiness with Trump, who he believed was disregarding the FBI’s traditional independence from the White House.
Until his firing, Comey oversaw the federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s associates and Russia. Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey outraged Democrats, who believe he was improperly trying to halt a probe that has hung over his presidency since his first day in office.
The former director’s testimony is based on written memos of his interactions with Trump, some of which he says he shared with senior FBI leadership. Comey describes at length a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which he believed Trump asked him to drop any investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
“He then said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,'” Comey says, according to the prepared remarks. “I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.'”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unsure if the president had reviewed Comey’s testimony. Asked whether the president stood by earlier assertions that he had neither sought Comey’s loyalty nor asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, she said: “I can’t imagine the president not standing by his own statement.”
Sanders referred specific questions to Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who did not immediately respond to inquiries.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump announced that he planned to nominate Christopher Wray, a former Justice Department official, as Comey’s successor. FBI directors are nominated for 10-year terms.
Comey’s testimony was released by the Senate intelligence committee hours after lawmakers sparred with top intelligence chiefs who refused to answer the panel’s questions about conversations they had with Trump regarding the Russia probe. Intelligence committee members wanted to know about news reports claiming Trump had asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Trump allies have sought to undermine Comey’s credibility ahead of his testimony, noting that the FBI had to correct some of his remarks from his last appearance on Capitol Hill. They’ve also questioned why Comey did not raise his concerns about Trump publicly or resign.
Among the encounters Comey describes is a Jan. 27 dinner at the White House that he viewed as an attempt by the president to “create some sort of patronage relationship.”
According to Comey, Trump asked if he wanted to remain as FBI director and declared: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.” Comey says he replied that he could offer his honesty, and that when Trump said he wanted “honest loyalty,” Comey paused and said, “You will get that from me.”
In March, after Comey had publicly revealed the existence of a federal counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump complained that the probe had left a “cloud” that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”
It was during that conversation that Comey said the president asked him what could be done to “lift the cloud” of investigation that was damaging his administration. Comey said Trump also said “he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia” — referencing an unverified intelligence dossier detailing compromising information Moscow allegedly had collected on the president.
The White House initially said Trump fired Comey on the recommendation of the Justice Department, citing as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump later said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey and would have dismissed him without the Justice Department’s input.
Comey said his practice of keeping written meeting records began after his encounter with Trump before the inauguration. He said he did not keep records of the two private, in-person interactions he had with President Barack Obama between the time he took the helm at the FBI in September 2013 and the end of the 44th president’s tenure.
Comey describes nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months.