WASHINGTON (AFP) – When Donald Trump pushed James Comey out the door of the FBI last month, he likely hoped to be rid of a thorn in his side – a man he viewed as a “showboat” or even, some reports said, a “nutjob”.
But the shock ouster of the former FBI chief, it turns out, did not prevent Comey from lobbing yet another bombshell into the world of American politics – as he has done over and over this past year. He reappeared with a vengeance on Wednesday (June 7), issuing an explosive statement on the eve of his hotly-awaited testimony to Congress on allegations of Russian meddling in the US election.
The statement offers a snapshot of a series of nine meetings or conversations he had with President Donald Trump before being sacked on May 9.
The following are some of the key points from the testimony:
‘Let this go’
Comey, who had been leading an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s US election, confirmed reports that Trump urged him to drop an investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn, who quit after less than a month in his post after admitting misleading Vice-President Mike Pence, was under scrutiny over his contacts with Russian officials when Comey and Trump met in the White House on Feb 14.
Comey said that Trump had told him that Flynn was “a good guy and has been through a lot”.
“He (Trump) 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 said he then wrote up a memo about the conversation and discussed it with other senior members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The conversation was “very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency,” Comey added.
An awkward dinner
Comey also outlined how Trump called for a pledge of loyalty during a dinner at the White House, an appeal the former FBI chief says he rebuffed while instead promising his honesty.
According to Comey, the dinner on Jan 27 began with Trump asking whether he wanted to stay on at the helm of the FBI.
“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,” Comey recalled.
“That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”
Comey said that the president then told him: ‘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,” he added.
‘Lift the cloud’
In one of their last phone conversations, Comey says that Trump spoke of his exasperation at how the focus on the Russia investigation was beginning to dog his presidency.
“He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country... He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud’,” Comey recalled.
“I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasised the problems this was causing him.”
Trump initially justified Comey’s sacking on the grounds that an official report had found him guilty of multiple failings in his handling of an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server.
But in a later interview, Trump admitted that he was considering “this Russia thing” when he made the decision to sack Comey.
‘Nothing to do with hookers’
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, the two men met in New York where Comey briefed the president-elect on what he called “salacious and unverified” claims that would soon emerge in the press.
Comey briefed Trump one-on-one at Trump Towers on Jan 6 “to minimise potential embarrassment to the president-elect” about the claims involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel which Trump visited in 2013.
Trump angrily dismissed the reports when they were published in early January and Comey recalled how the claims still rankled with the president when they spoke in March.
“He 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,” said Comey.