Tomorrow, ousted FBI director James Comey will provide his highly anticipated testimony in front of the senate committee on intelligence. Today, Comey’s written testimony was released by the Senate—and it reads like a juicy novella, replete with Godfather-like scenes. Due in part to his habit of keeping copious notes on meetings with Trump, Comey describes in great detail his encounters with the president, in all their awkward, ominous glory.
The captivating document states that Trump pressured Comey for personal loyalty, and includes the now-infamous conversation in which the FBI director says Trump asked him to stop investigating former national security advisor Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia. Here are some of the highlights:
The first of Comey’s nine one-on-one conversations with Trump happened two weeks prior to the president’s inauguration. After briefing the president-elect and his national security team on the findings of the investigation into Russian meddling, Comey spoke alone with Trump to brief him on some sensitive material—allegations that Russia had compromising information relating to the incoming president. The material was “salacious and unverified,” but, says Comey, the FBI “knew the media was about to publicly report the material” and felt Trump should be notified.
Comey says that during the meeting, unprompted, he told Trump that he would notify him in case he were under direct investigation:
[…] prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. 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.
Comey also adds that he started taking detailed, written notes of his conversations with “Mr. Trump,” a practice he did not adopt with president Obama:
I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.
Trump, now president, invites Comey for dinner at the White House. Comey expected other guests to be included but wrote that “it turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”
At dinner, Trump asked Comey whether he intended to stay on as FBI director, and gave Comey the impression that “the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” This seemed to Comey to interfere with the FBI’s tradition of impartiality:
[…] because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President. 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.
Indeed, later at dinner, the president returns to the subject of loyalty:
He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.
After a briefing in the Oval Office, Trump excuses all attendees except for Comey, with whom he says he wants to speak with alone:
When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.”
Flynn, Trump’s initial pick as national security advisor, had just resigned, but the president assured Comey his former employee had done nothing wrong:
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.”
Comey understood this comment to be a request to stop investigating Flynn, but not stop looking into Russian interference generally. The FBI leadership team agreed with Comey’s assessment:
I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. 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.
Because the meeting was one-on-one and there was no evidence to corroborate Comey’s words, he did not report the incident to attorney general Jeff Sessions. However, he later “took the opportunity” of a meeting with Sessions “to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me.”
Despite Comey’s assurances that Trump was not under direct investigation, Trump complained repeatedly that the Russia issue was “a cloud” that made running the country more difficult. In a phone call, Trump asked Comey what could be done to lift it.
In the same phone call, Comey told Trump that he had already told Congressional leaders the president was not under investigation:
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. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)
The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.
Comey passed his request to acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, saying he would wait for further guidance. Sessions did not get back to him.
Trump calls Comey to inquire on what he had done to publicize the fact that the president was not part of his investigation. Comey replies that he had gone through the appropriate channels but hadn’t heard back from the attorney general’s office yet regarding how to make this fact known. He suggested the White House make an official request.
Comey then ends his report with one last novel-worthy scene, in which Trump once again lectures his FBI director on the topic of loyalty, albeit with a more ominous undercurrent:
He said he would do that and 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.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.