Former FBI director James B. Comey said in dramatic testimony Thursday he could not trust President Trump to tell the truth, leading him to take extraordinary steps to document their private conversations, and to make public the details to spur the appointment of a special counsel to probe the administration over possible links to Russia.
He also accused White House officials of telling “lies, plain and simple,” about him and the FBI in an effort to cover up the real reason for his dismissal last month.
“There’s no doubt that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,’’ Comey said in highly anticipated testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The endeavor to change the way the Russia investigation was conducted, that is a big deal.’’
He also revealed that he was so skeptical about whether Justice Department leadership could handle the politically explosive probe after he was fired, he arranged for details of his private conversations with the president to be made public, so that an outside lawyer would take over the case.
Over nearly three hours of testimony, Comey grimly recounted the events that he said showed the president sought to redirect the Russia probe away from his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey declined to say if he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But his detailed account of private talks in which Trump repeatedly brought up the Russia matter, and asked him to issue public statements about it or drop the probe into Flynn, left no doubt in Comey’s mind why he was canned.
“I know I was fired because something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was putting pressure on [Trump],’’ Comey said.
In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, sent out a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone,’’
Kasowitz also accused Comey of trying to “undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications.’’
A former federal prosecutor, Comey testified that he took detailed notes of his private talks with the president — a departure from his practice with Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama. Comey said he did so because he was “honestly concerned’’ that the president might lie about what had been said in their meeting. He said the two spoke in private a total of nine times before Comey was fired, he said.
Comey’s written account of those discussions, made public on Wednesday, has fueled the debate over whether the president may have attempted to obstruct justice by pressuring the FBI director about a sensitive investigation.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, by Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Ed O’Keefe