Fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey has created a political storm over his allegations against President Donald Trump who reportedly asked him to drop a probe against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and sought ‘loyalty’ from him.
The statement which was meant as an opening statement of Comey during his Congressional hearing on Friday was released a day ahead by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Comey said that President Donald Trump asked him for a pledge of loyalty and told him to drop an inquiry into Flynn.
President Trump feels ‘completely and totally vindicated’ by the testimony of Comey, according to his private lawyer.
‘The President feels completely and totally vindicated,’ Marc Kasowitz, an attorney representing Trump in the special counsel probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, said in a statement.
‘He is eager to move forward with his agenda,’ he said.
“The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify,” Comey said in remarks posted on the website of the Senate intelligence committee.
Comey, 56, is scheduled to give his testimony before the committee on Thursday. His testimony was publicly released intentionally on Wednesday by the Senate intelligence committee at Comey’s request, a Senate intelligence committee source said.
Comey, who was fired by Trump last month, dropped the bombshell by his statement which many experts say could be seen as obstruction to justice.
According to Comey, Trump also made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information.
Comey recounted a January 27 private dinner in the White House Green Room with the President.
“‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’,” Comey quoted Trump as saying.
Comey continued: “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.”
Comey states that Trump asked him on several occasions to publicly state that he was not under investigation.
But Comey also confirmed in his statement that he told Trump he was not under investigation, as Trump asserted in his letter to Comey explaining his firing.
Comey said that he considered Trump’s request on Flynn ‘very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency’ but decided to keep it ‘very closely held’.
“The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide,” Comey wrote.
“We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account.”
The seven-page written testimony that gives details the interaction that Comey had with Trump.
Political pundits in the US said this could be the most watched Congressional testimony in recent decades.
It could even be the most tweeted Congressional hearing as several US news channels are planning to carry the hearing live from the US Capitol.
Comey’s statement describes ‘behaviour’ by Trump that was at best ‘inappropriate’, and at worst ‘illegal’ said Democratic Senator Ed Markey.
“Trump, on numerous occasions, sought fealty from the FBI director, attempted to interfere with an historic federal investigation, and then fired Comey after both requests were spurned,” he said.
“By repeatedly and improperly asking Comey to ‘lift the cloud’ that was darkening his administration, asking him to ‘let it go’ in reference to the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and then summarily firing the FBI Director, Donald Trump appears to have obstructed justice. Comey’s testimony details a pattern of disturbing behaviour and a disdain for the rule of law by Trump,” Markey said.
House Minority Whip Steny H Hoyer demanded that the Congress should launch an independent, bipartisan commission to get to the bottom of Russia’s attempts to undermine our democracy and to what extent they had contact with the Trump campaign as they did so.
Congresswoman Jacky Rosen said the prepared remarks offered by the former FBI Director are deeply worrying.
“I am especially concerned by the President’s attempts to interfere in the FBI's work by asking about dropping investigations into Michael Flynn and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It disturbs me to know that the President would ask our chief law enforcement officer for his loyalty in exchange for job security, and then fire him in the middle of an ongoing investigation,” he said.
According to The Hill, while the testimony mostly confirms what has been reported since Comey’s firing in May, it nonetheless paints an extraordinary picture of the president's interactions with one of the nation’s top law enforcement officials.
The Washington Post said to date, Democrats are split on the question of impeachment proceedings, with some readily suggesting the possibility but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi impatiently dismissing that as premature.
‘Legal analysts said the testimony adds detail that would beef up an obstruction of justice case,’ the daily reported.
The New York Times said the White House is on defensive after Comey’s testimony was released.
‘The impression painted by Comey is one of the president seeking to exert control over him and his agency, and a vexed FBI director pushing back -- a narrative the White House rejects,’ wrote The Wall Street Journal.
Top intelligence officials deny receiving pressure from Trump
Top American officials on Wednesday denied reports that the intelligence community received any pressure from President Trump to help ease an FBI probe into an aide’s Russia ties.
“In the three-plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” National Security Agency director Admiral Michael Rogers told members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a Congressional hearing.
“To the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so,” Rogers said.
“I’m not going to discuss the specifics of conversations with the President of the United States, but I stand by the comment I just made to you, sir,” Rogers said in response to a question from Senator Mark Warner, Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Rogers in fact had heated exchange of words with Warner during the Congressional hearing.
“I stand by my previous statement, that we are in a public session here and I do not feel that it is appropriate for me to address confidential information,” said Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence.
“Most of the information I’ve shared with the President, obviously, is directed toward intelligence matters during our oval briefings every morning at the White House, or most mornings when both the president and I'm in town,” Coats said.
“But for intelligence-related matters, or any other matters that have been discussed, it is my belief that it’s inappropriate for me to share that with the public,” he added.