Former FBI Director James Comey has released the opening statement he plans to make at the big hearing tomorrow morning before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A link to the full seven-page statement is below.
My first reaction is that, given everything we have learned up to now, it is mostly unsurprising. Comey details all his direct one-on-one contacts with President Trump. As we have previously heard, he was in the habit of making notes immediately after each such meeting, to preserve his recollection while it was fresh.
Comey comes across, at least in his own presentation, as extremely cautious about everything he said to Trump. The exchanges, despite the huge stakes that have arisen, are mostly pretty boring. And Comey doesn’t editorialize or dramatize at all, nor does he divulge anything about the findings of the investigations that led to him being fired so summarily that he found out about it by reading the news on a TV screen while he was traveling.
Comey confirms that Trump asked him to ease up on investigating fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump told Comey that Flynn was a good guy who had done nothing wrong and had been fired only because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the Russia stuff.
As previous reports have indicated, Comey says Trump asked him repeatedly for “loyalty,” and Comey replied that he could pledge “honesty” in his relations with the president. On one occasion, Trump changed his request to “honest loyalty” and Comey said “you will get that from me.”
As you probably recall, Trump has said, in the text of the very message firing Comey, that he had been assured by Comey that he, Trump, was not personally a target of the investigation. In his prepared remarks, Comey confirms that he told Trump – without being asked by the president – that Trump was not personally under investigation, although the rest of the document makes clear that Comey did not and could not assure Trump that that developments might not cause the president to come under investigation himself.
In her analysis of the testimony, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin suggests that when Comey writes that the FBI “did not have” an investigation in process on Trump personally, the use of the past tense might imply that such an investigation is now under way. She may be squinting too hard.
Rubin also writes that, by asking Comey if he wanted to stay on as FBI director, even though Comey had previously told him that he planned to serve out his normal 10-year term, Trump was hoping to create some anxiety in Comey’s mind about getting fired. Comey didn’t say that, but one can see what Rubin is driving at.
Rubin, and Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, who is quoted in her column, think that Trump might have been letting Comey know that if he really wanted to serve out his 10-year term, he should get the hint and drop not only the Flynn investigation but the larger Russian influence investigation, which Trump also said was “creating a cloud” over Trump’s presidency. I suppose the senators can ask Comey if he felt that Trump was seeking to pressure him.
Other than that, most of which of which has been previously reported, Comey’s prepared remarks contain no new bombshells that I could recognize. Senators will surely try to draw him out further. I have no idea whether he will produce any bombshells in response to questions from the senators, but the prepared testimony reaffirms Comey’s reputation as the soul of caution in talking about matters still under investigation.
Here’s the full Comey prepared statement, heavily annotated by the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips, who is a lot more excited about it than I am. She reads a lot of meaning into things Comey phrased in bland ways. If she’s right, the questioning by senators may bring out at least a lot of innuendo. My own reading of Comey is that he will try to stick to what was said, and leave it to others to read meaning into Trump’s words.