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Live: Former FBI director James Comey testifies before Congress; Comey Testimony: ‘Lordy, I Hope There Are Tapes’

June 8, 2017


Live: Former FBI director James Comey testifies before Congress

• James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, testified that President Trump and others in his administration had lied when they said agents had lost confidence in Mr. Comey.

• “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Mr. Comey said, referring to Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he may have recorded their conversations.

• Mr. Trump stayed quiet, at least during the first 90 minutes, but his son, Donald Trump, Jr., took to Twitter to defend his father.

• “Today is your opportunity to set the record straight,” the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said to Mr. Comey.

‘Lies, plain and simple’

Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump lied to the American public when he said that the F.B.I. was in disarray and that agents had lost confidence in Mr. Comey.

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Mr. Comey said in brief opening remarks.

Mr. Trump made that claim when he fired Mr. Comey last month. Mr. Comey said he was confused and concerned by Mr. Trump’s changing explanation for why he fired him.

Mr. Comey learned of his firing from the news media. He offered a heartfelt farewell to his former employees.

“I am so sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to you publicly,” Mr. Comey said.

Comey: Trump conduct within scope of F.B.I. investigation

Mr. Comey acknowledged for the first time that the F.B.I. was scrutinizing Mr. Trump’s actions. He said Mr. Trump’s conduct fell within “the scope of” the F.B.I.’s investigation but that he was not specifically under investigation.

The F.B.I. is investigating whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian agents to try to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Comey took notes on Trump conversations

Mr. Comey said he began taking notes on his meetings with the president because, from his first interaction with him, during the transition period, he thought Mr. Trump might lie about what was said.

He testified that he documented all of his meetings with Mr. Trump because it was so unusual for him to be discussing ongoing investigations, alone, with a sitting president. Mr. Comey had served in senior law enforcement positions under three presidents.

“The combination of factors just wasn’t present with either President Bush or President Obama,” he said.

A solemn tone

Mr. Burr and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, both set a solemn tone for the hearing.

Mr. Burr pointed out that there were two sides to the stories Mr. Comey was set to tell about his one-on-one interactions with President Trump. During one of them, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the F.B.I.’s investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

“The American people need to hear your side of the story, just as they need to hear the president’s description of events,” Mr. Burr said.

Mr. Warner highlighted the more serious allegations from Mr. Comey’s prepared testimony, emphasizing the importance of his appearance to the panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “This is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news. It is an effort to protect our country from a new threat that will not go away anytime soon.”

Comey confirms Flynn under criminal investigation when fired.

In response to a question from Mr. Burr, Mr. Comey confirmed that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, was facing a criminal investigation at the time he was fired. That means he was under criminal investigation while serving as the national security adviser, a job that gave him ready access to the president and almost all the secret intelligence possessed by the country’s spy agencies.

The Times reported last month that Mr. Flynn warned the Trump transition he was under investigation in early January, more than two week before the inauguration. Nonetheless, he was allowed to take up the national security post.

White House officials pushed back on The Times’s story, insisting that the Trump transition — and later, the White House — knew nothing of any criminal investigation, and questioning whether there was even an investigation into Mr. Flynn at the time.

Mr. Comey has now provided public confirmation that there was indeed an investigation underway while Mr. Flynn was serving at the White House.

Will Republicans offer the president a lifeline?

Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho and generally a loyal supporter of Mr. Trump, seemed inclined to provide the president a measure of cover in his questioning.

He immediately turned to what has become a major White House talking point: that Mr. Comey had told Mr. Trump he was not personally under investigation.

“I gather from all this that you’re willing to say now that while you were director, the president of the United States was not under investigation?” Mr. Risch said.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Comey said.

Then Mr. Risch seized on the wording of Mr. Comey’s recollection of Mr. Trump’s request that the former director back off an investigation of Mr. Flynn. The senator read Mr. Comey’s account of Mr. Trump’s words aloud: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

“He did not direct you to let it go,” Mr. Risch said.

“Not in his words, no,” Mr. Comey said.

“He said, ‘I hope,’” Mr. Risch pressed.

Mr. Comey did not bite. “I took it as a direction,” Mr. Comey said. “It’s the president of the United States, with me alone.”

“You may have taken it as a direction but that’s not what he said,” Mr. Risch said.

He asked, rhetorically, if Mr. Comey knew of anyone “who’s ever been charged for hoping something.”

Trump stayed off Twitter, but not his son.

Mr. Trump has stayed off Twitter during Mr. Comey’s testimony but another member of the family has not. Donald Trump Jr. has been live-tweeting the hearing, ridiculing the former F.B.I. director’s account.

“Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well,” the younger Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “I hear ‘I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job’”

He added: “very far from any kind of coercion or influence and certainly not obstruction!” And then he continued: “Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means”

Focusing on Mr. Comey’s testimony that the president expressed hope that he would drop the investigation into Mr. Flynn, the younger Mr. Trump wrote: “Hoping and telling are two very different things, you would think that a guy like Comey would know that. #givemeabreak”

Happy hour started early

Washingtonians were working from home, taking the day off or otherwise mentally playing hooky to bear witness to the big hearing.

Well before Shaw’s Tavern along busy Florida Avenue opened at 9:30 a.m. for its “Comey Hearing Covfefe” event, a line stretched the length of the block. Spectators hoped to snag a table and perhaps a Comey-themed menu item, like an F.B.I. breakfast or a covfefe coffee. Dozens of journalists, cameras and notepads in hand, swarmed the attendees.

“I wonder how many people are going to say ‘I don’t want to be on TV, I’m supposed to be at work,’” Brian Palladio, a computer programmer, said as he took his place in line. “The seriousness of the issues aside, I think it’s kind of an interesting example of D.C. culture.”

The tavern was full within 15 minutes of opening, the atmosphere more Super Bowl than Senate hearing. On the patio outside, four college students perused the menu.

“I think I’m going to get the F.B.I. breakfast,” Colter Moos, 21, said as he read the menu. “And then at 11, I’m getting some vodka.”

As Mr. Comey began his remarks, forks stopped clinking and chatter ceased. People began casting their eyes toward one of several TVs set up to broadcast the hearing. It was clear how the crowd felt as Mr. Comey began to speak: People started cheering and clapping.

View from the right

Breitbart News is live-blogging the testimony from Union Pub, a Washington bar, to capture “the reaction of the crowd of Washington elites.” Matthew Boyle, the right-wing site’s Washington political editor, reported “audible gasps of disappointment” when Mr. Comey declined to read aloud his prepared opening statement.

Mr. Boyle was skeptical of the significance of today’s hearing, calling it a “charade” and dismissing Mr. Comey’s statement as a “giant nothing-burger.” Breitbart’s updates can be read here, under the cheeky headline, “Covfefe Livewire: Comey Crazy Sweeps Washington.”

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