Former FBI Director James Comey believes that when he offers Congress assurances about an ongoing investigation, and those claims cease to be true, he has a duty to correct the record. His willingness to act on that belief may well have tipped the 2016 election to Donald Trump. And, it turns out, that unwavering stand is also what led Donald Trump to fire him.
Comey’s statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, released on Wednesday ahead of his testimony, tells the story in dramatic fashion. At its heart is a clash between a president who insists he’s being smeared and demands to be defended, and a lawman who refuses to repeat in public the assurances that he offered in private.
That conflict played out most clearly in a March 30 phone call between the two. Trump, as Comey tells the story, described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” hovering over his presidency, and demanded to know what the FBI could do to “lift the cloud.” Comey insisted that a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation was the best way to resolve the matter.
But that didn’t placate the president, who wanted an explanation of Comey’s testimony the previous week confirming the existence of an investigation into the potential for collusion between Russia and associates of the Trump campaign. “I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump,” Comey recalled. “I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’”