Before he traveled to New York, Comey says he consulted with Justice Department officials about whether he could tell Trump he wasn’t under investigation. “That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him,” Comey said. “We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.”
But the bulk of the prepared testimony revolves around Trump’s one-on-one efforts to extract fealty from Comey and to influence federal inquiries into Russian electoral interference and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The most damning portion comes when Comey recounts a January 27 dinner at the White House to which Trump invited him. Comey agreed, saying he was under the impression he wouldn’t be the only one present. He was.
According to Comey, Trump opened by asking him whether he intended to stay on in his position. (Comey was three years into a 10-year tenure at the time.) “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,” Comey said. “That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”
When Comey tried to tell Trump he was not “reliable” in the political sense, but politically neutral, he says the tone of the conversation changed.
A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.
Then, in a moment Comey describes with palpable awkwardness, he says the president pressed him on the matter again, at which point Comey says he offered Trump his “honesty,” then his “honest loyalty,” in an attempt to escape from the encounter. His narrative picks up at a February 14 White House meeting in which Trump asked him to stay behind alone. The subject, Comey says, was Michael Flynn.
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
From there, Comey says, he quickly drafted an unclassified memo about the encounter.