Five Major Highlights in Comey Testimony

The full text of James Comey’s prepared testimony for Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee is now publicly available. Here are five major highlights from Comey’s testimony.

1. An important revelation for the issue of obstruction of justice with the Russia investigation – and it counts in favor of President Trump. During the famous Oval Office meeting on February 14, Comey did not understand Trump to be asking him to change the course of the Russia investigation. [Update: I do not mean to suggest this counts in favor of President Trump with respect to obstruction of justice in the Flynn investigation — it counts against Trump in that case. Comey is alluding to the criminal offense that would apply to Flynn, which Kate Brannen and I discussed back in February (see no. 5 in this piece). Comey’s testimony thus counts against Trump with respect to the issue of obstruction of justice involving the Flynn investigation.]

Comey’s testimony:

“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. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.”

2. An important revelation for the issue of obstruction of justice – and it counts against Trump. In a phone call on March 30, which I believe has not previously been reported, the President called Comey to tell him personally that the Russia investigation was creating a cloud over his administration:

Comey’s testimony:

“On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”

3. In favor of Trump’s statement of events, Comey DID assure Trump that he was not under investigation on at least three occasions — and none of those three seem to be on President Trump’s request for that information.

A fourth instance is Trump’s phone call on April 11, in which the President almost explicitly assumes he is still not under investigation and, by implication, raises the question whether he is. Comey’s response is another (the fourth) assurance that Trump is not under investigation:

Comey’s testimony:

“On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back.”

4. Against Trump on a number of issues including potential obstruction of justice, the President appeared to try to invoke the idea of Comey’s reciprocal loyalty to him during the phone call on April 11:

Comey’s testimony:

“[Trump] added, ‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.'”

Trump may be referring back to the one-on-one dinner, in which the two ultimately agreed on the awkward formulation that Comey would give Trump his “honest loyalty.”

5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ non-response to Comey’s request and statement that the President should not communicate directly with the FBI director is a haunting revelation about Sessions that reflects very poorly on the Attorney General:

Comey’s testimony:

“Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – as inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.”

As the testimony’s timeline makes clear, after Comey implored the Attorney General “to prevent any future direct communication” with Mr. Trump, the President continued to contact Comey directly.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.