Former FBI director James Comey today testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and confirmed much of what we already heard from media reports—yes, Comey said, president Donald Trump asked for his loyalty; yes, the president seemed to hold his job over his head and asked him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn; and yes, he believed he was fired because of the way he conducted the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"I firmly believe Mr. Comey's testimony made it crystal clear just how important it is to have not only a special prosecutor on the case, but also for all members of Congress to be absolutely committed to serving the citizens they represent and following the facts wherever they may lead," senator Patty Murray said in a released statement Thursday.
Here are some highlights of the hearing:
-There is no doubt in his mind, Comey said, that Russia attempted to interfere with the election, and that its government was fully aware of those activities. Democratic senator Martin Heinrick of New Mexico asked Comey whether he ever had conversations with Trump about what the administration should be doing to protect the U.S. against Russian interference; Comey said no, only with former president Barack Obama.
-What does "honest loyalty" mean? (Trump: I want loyalty; Comey: I promise honesty; Trump: I want loyalty; Comey: Honest loyalty?) Comey said his responses to Trump during private conversations were at times a desperate attempt to break the awkward silence. As Comey wrote in his opening statement, he had an unanticipated private dinner with Trump, and he already had a strained relationship with him. "This didn't improve the relationship because it was very, very awkward," Comey said. "He was asking for something and I was refusing to give it."
-Of course, Republican senators didn't hesitate to seize the moment to ask questions about Comey's investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's email server. His answer: It was more of a big deal than what Clinton's campaign said. And the attorney general at the time, Loretta Lynch, had asked him to use the word "matter," not "investigation," he said, which led him to distance himself from the Justice Department. But it was not enough for him to justify appointing a special counsel—that would've been "brutally unfair" to Clinton, Comey said. "I knew there was no case there."
-Comey said he was compelled to testify after the administration "chose to defame me and the FBI," when Trump had said the agency was in disarray and lost trust in Comey. "Those were lies, plain and simple. And I'm so sorry the FBI work force had to hear them, and I'm so sorry the American people were told them," Comey said. He gave a heartfelt speech to his old colleagues, with an apology for not giving them a proper goodbye.
-Comey said he had private conversations with former presidents, twice with Obama and once with former president George W. Bush. So why did Comey feel compelled to document his conversations this time? The circumstances, subject matter, and he said, "the person I was interacting with." "I was honestly concerned that he might lie. ... That combination, I'd never experienced before."
-Comey confirmed the president had not been under investigation as of his time there. He said Trump asked him to publicly declare this. He didn't for two reasons: One, the Duty to Correct if circumstances changed (which happened to Clinton). "If that boomerang comes back, it would've been a very big deal," Comey said. And two, the slippery slope problem; the next question would be going down the line of potential officials who could be under investigation, and "what's the principle basis for stopping?"
-An article by The New York Times came under dispute when Comey characterized it as inaccurate, not going into the details of what he thought was wrong. "The challenge—and I’m not picking on reporters—about writing stories about classified information is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on, and those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it,” Comey said, in response to a question from senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho. "We don’t call the press and say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong.’” The reporters have since then published a response that said they stood by the story.
-"Lordy, I hope there are tapes." Comey's response to Trump's tweet that claimed Trump recorded their conversations.
-Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, seemed thoroughly confused when he tried to question Comey about the investigation into Clinton's email server. (He since said he stayed up too late watching baseball, according to Politico.) At one point McCain accidentally said "president Comey." When Comey responded that Clinton's investigation had been complete as of July 5, and the Russia investigation was ongoing, McCain seemed to confuse the two investigations together and, when citing the Russian interference last year, said there was a "double standard" to let one presidential candidate go and continue to investigate another.