Comey: Trump tried to create a “patronage” relationship
Former FBI Director James Comey testified that President Donald Trump attempted to undermine the bureau’s independence and “create some sort of patronage relationship” by demanding the director pledge his “loyalty”.
In his written testimony submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey recounted Trump’s repeated demand for “loyalty” during an “awkward” dinner at the White House Green Room on Jan. 27th.
“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.
“My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
“I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten- year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not ‘reliable’ in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.
“A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”
“Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others.
“He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’
“I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’
“He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’
“I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’
“As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.”
(Comey indicated his memo was shared with the FBI’s senior leadership team shortly after the dinner.)
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Comey, who was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, said he tried to explain to Trump “why it’s in his interest and every president’s interest for the FBI to be apart in a way because its credibility is important to a president and to the country.”
The former FBI Director, who was dismissed by Trump on May 9th, said Trump’s demand for “loyalty” gave him the sense that “my job would be contingent upon how he felt I conducted myself and whether I demonstrated loyalty”.
Comey pointed that prior to the Jan. 27th dinner, Trump repeatedly asked him to stay on as FBI Director, saying “I hope very much you’ll stay. I hope you’ll stay.”
“So I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Three times we’ve already – you’ve already asked me to stay or talked about me staying’,” said Comey. “[M]y common sense told me what’s going on here is that he’s looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.”
intelligence.senate.gov: Former FBI Director James Comey’s written testimony – June 8, 2017 (PDF)