Trump's requests were very disturbing, says ex-FBI chief

Former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday said he sensed something big was about to happen when US President Donald Trump asked to speak with him alone in the Oval Office and he felt the need to remember every word that was spoken.
VIDEO: REUTERS
Former FBI director James Comey being sworn in before testifying at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday.
Former FBI director James Comey being sworn in before testifying at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Comey's testimony open to interpretation as he confirms saying that Trump was not under probe

In testimony potentially damaging to US President Donald Trump, former FBI director James Comey said he had found it "very concerning" and "very disturbing" when Mr Trump asked him to let up on an investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador in Washington.

Mr Comey's words, coming under questioning by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, were his first public statement since he was fired by Mr Trump in May. He said that while the President had the right to sack him, he was concerned by the "shifting explanations" for it. "The administration then chose to defame me, and more importantly, the FBI," he said. "Those were lies, plain and simple."

Mr Comey's testimony came a day after he posted a seven-page statement online in which he detailed how Mr Trump, in meetings and phone calls, had asked for his loyalty, and for his help to "lift the cloud" of allegations about Russia links that had been dogging him.

But Mr Comey also confirmed in the much-awaited testimony that has set political circles on edge that he had assured the President he was not personally under investigation. In a day of high political drama, Mr Comey faced hours of grilling in a packed room. His testimony immediately triggered shrill partisan interpretation.

Mr Trump's critics seized on it as pointing to obstruction of justice, while the President's lawyer claimed it vindicated his client.

Mr Comey's statement and testimony, broadcast live, revealed a President deeply concerned and disturbed by allegations and investigations of associations with Russia. It also revealed Mr Comey's discomfort as he tried to avoid compromising the independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Detailing a dinner with the President on Jan 27, for instance, Mr Comey wrote: "My instincts told me that the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to... create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch." The President told him "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty", Mr Comey said.

"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," he said, referring to Mr Trump's suggestion that he may have recorded their conversations.

But Mr Comey withheld judgment on whether Mr Trump's requests that he drop an investigation into his former national security adviser amounted to obstruction of justice.

"I don't think it is for me to say whether the conversation I had with the President was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning," he said.

President Trump fired Mr Comey on May 9, ostensibly on grounds of incompetence. Later, the President told NBC the former director was a "showboat".

An advertisement appearing on cable networks yesterday morning, paid for by the pro-Trump political action committee called Great America Alliance, questioned Mr Comey's ethics and competence, and concluded that he was "just another DC insider".

Mr Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and commentator, told The Straits Times: "It is not a good look. Claiming it vindicates the President is not exactly accurate.

"All it does is prove Comey did tell him he wasn't under investigation. But the question here is whether or not Trump abused power, and if so, was it obstruction of justice."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's requests were very disturbing, says ex-FBI chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe