Comey says Trump fired him because of the Russia investigation
Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believes he was fired by President Donald Trump “because of the Russia investigation”.
“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,” said Comey.
While Comey said it is up to the newly-appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to determine whether Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice, his testimony suggested that the president was trying to meddle with the FBI’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
“I was fired in some ways to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted,” said Comey. “That is a very big deal and not just because it involves me. The nature of the FBI and the nature of its work requires that it not be the subject of political consideration. And then on top of that, you have the Russia investigation itself is vital because of the threat…If any Americans were part of helping the Russians do that to us, that is a very big deal. And I’m confident that if that were the case, Director Mueller will find that evidence.”
The day after Comey was fired, Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office, and the New York Times reported that Trump disparaged Comey as “crazy, a real nut job” to the Russian officials.
“I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” Trump reportedly told Lavrov and Kislyak.
The following day, Trump admitted that the Russia investigation was a factor in his decision to fire Comey in an interview with NBC News.
“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’,” Trump told Lester Holt.
The White House initially cited Comey’s poor handling of the investigation into former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to justify firing Comey. The Trump administration also attacked Comey’s leadership and claimed that the FBI was in disarray.
“The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil – less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that,” Trump claimed.
Comey said Trump’s remarks defamed him and the bureau.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,” said Comey. “And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I am so sorry that the American people were told them.”
Comey, who served as the Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush before being nominated for FBI Director by President Barack Obama, said he was “confused” and “increasingly concerned” about the Trump administration’s “shifting explanations” for his dismissal.
Comey elaborated on why in his opening remarks:
“They confused me because the president and I had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office, and he had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped that I would stay and I had repeatedly assured him that I did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term.
“He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current Attorney General, and had learned that I was doing a great job and that I was extremely well-liked by the FBI workforce.
“So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned again from the media that he was telling privately other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russian investigation.
“I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn’t make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions had to be made. That didn’t make any sense to me.”
Comey said prior to his firing neither Trump nor Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated that they were dissatisfied or concerned about his performance as FBI Director.
Comey said he received a call from Trump shortly before the inauguration. Trump said to Comey, “I hope you’re going to stay. You’re doing a great job,” and Comey responded that he intended to stay on as FBI Director.
Comey recounted receiving another call from Trump as he was about to board a helicopter with the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency. “He just called to check in and tell me I was doing an awesome job and wanted to see how I was doing. I said, ‘I’m doing fine, sir.’ And then I finished the call and got on the helicopter.”
During the Senate hearing, Comey testified that Trump demanded a “loyalty” pledge and asked him to drop the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government.