The Senate Intelligence Committee released the written testimony that James Comey prepared for his hearing today. Here are the key takeaways as I see them:
1. Everything in Comey’s testimony corroborates what we’ve learned so far via reporting on leaks. That lends a lot of credibility to both the leakers and the journalists who have written about them.
2. Trump was right when he said that, on three separate occasions, Comey informed him that he was not being investigated personally. However, Comey goes to great lengths to write about how counter-intelligence investigations work – specifically that they focus on individuals, not crimes.
3. The first time Comey met Trump was on January 6th when he briefed the president-elect on the Steele dossier. Comey doesn’t provide many specifics about how Trump reacted, but he does note that, contrary to how he operated under President Obama, he was uncomfortable enough that he began writing memos to document his meetings.
I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.
It is also worth noting that throughout this statement Comey makes it clear that whenever he wrote a memo, he contemporaneously shared it with the “senior leadership team of the FBI.” That means that he not only has written documentation, he has corroborating witnesses to his documentation at the time these conversations happened.
4. We’ve read previously about Comey’s January 27th dinner with Trump in which his position as FBI Director was discussed and the president asked for loyalty. This statement by Comey is significant:
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.
5. It was during Comey’s February 14th meeting with Trump that the president asked him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. Here is what Comey wrote about that:
I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.
This is the clearest case he presents for possible obstruction of justice – and it is very narrowly applicable to the investigation of Michael Flynn.
6. Comey describes two phone calls he had with Trump that were both initiated by the president, one on March 30th and the other on April 11th. In both of them Trump talked about the investigation creating “a cloud” over his presidency and asks what they can do to lift the cloud. But his main concern was about getting the word out that he was not personally under investigation.
7. In the final call, Trump seemed to harken back to the discussion about loyalty at the January 27th dinner. He said: “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” Comey writes that he didn’t ask what Trump meant by “that thing,” but it appears that either Comey wasn’t clear about not pledging loyalty, or Trump assumed he had promised something, regardless of what Comey actually said. I’m sure that reference would never stand up in a court of law, but it strikes me as illustrative of exactly the kind of smarmy wink-and-nod that Trump expects from his co-conspirators.
That is my take on the highlights that will be further discussed at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today. We’ll be live-blogging the event, so join us right here after 10 am ET.