Skip to main content

tv   Former FBI Director Comey Not for Me to Say if President Obstructed Justice  CSPAN  June 8, 2017 6:49pm-8:00pm EDT

6:49 pm
adjourned until noon on monday next for morning hour debate.
6:50 pm
6:51 pm
senator burr: i call this earing to order. director comey, i appreciate your willingness to appear before the committee today and more importantly, i thank you for your dedicated service and leadership to the federal bureau of investigation. your appearance today speaks to the trust we have built over the years and i'm looking forward to a very open and candid discussion today. i'd like to remind my
6:52 pm
colleagues that we will reconvene in closed session at 1:00 p.m. today, and i ask that you reserve for that venue any questions that might get into classified information. the director has been very gracious with his time, but the vice chairman and i have worked out a very specific timeline for his commitment to be on the hill. so we will do everything we can to meet that agreement. the senate select committee on intelligence exists to certify for the other 85 members of the united states senate and the american people that the intelligence community is operating lawfully and has the necessary authorities and tools to accomplish its mission and keep america safe. part of our mission beyond the oversight we continue to provide to the intelligence community and its activities is to investigate russian interference in the 2016 u.s. elections. the committee's work continues. this hearing represents part of
6:53 pm
that effort. allegations have been swirling in the press for the last several weeks and today is your opportunity to set the record straight. yesterday i read with interest your statement for the record. and i think it provides some helpful the tails surrounding your interactions with the president. it clearly lays out your understanding of those discussions. actions you took following each conversation. and your state of mind. i very much appreciate your candor. i think it's helpful as we work through to determine the ultimate truth behind possible russian interference in the 2016 elections. your statement also provides texture and context to your interactions with the president from your vantage point and outlines a strained relationship. the american people need to hear your side of the story, just as they need to hear the president's descriptions of events. these interanswers also
6:54 pm
highlight the importance of the committee's ongoing investigation. our experienced staff is interviewing all relevant parties and some of the most sensitive intelligence in our country's possession. we willest tab lirn the fact, separate from rampant speculation, and lay them out for the american people to make their own judgment. only then will we as a nation be able to move forward and to put this episode to rest. there are several outstanding issues not addressed your statement i hope you'll clear up for the american people today. did the president's request for yalty, your impression, that one-on-one dinner of january 27 was, and i quote, at least in part an effort to create some sort of patronage relationship or his march 30 phone call asking what you could do to lift the cloud of russian
6:55 pm
investigation in any way, alter your approach or the f.b.i.'s investigation into general flynn or the broader investigation into russia and possible links to the campaign? in your opinion, did potential russian efforts to establish links within -- with individuals within the trump orbit rise to a level we could define as collusion or was it a counterintelligence concern. there's been significant public speculation about your decision making relating to the clinton email invest. why did you decide to announce the recommendations that the department of jus tit not -- justice not pursue criminal charges. you describe it as a choice between a bad decision and a worse decision. the american people need to understand the facts behind your action. this committee is uniquely suited to investigate russia's interference in the 2016 elections. we also have a unified,
6:56 pm
bipartisan approach to what is a highly charged partisan issue. russian activities during 2016 election may have been aimed at one party's candidate but as my colleague, senator rubio, says frequently , in 2018 and 2020, it would be aimed at anyone. at home or abroad. my colleague, senator warner, and i have worked in -- have worked to stay in lockstep on this investigation. we've had our differences. on approach at times, but i've constantly stressed we need to be a team and i think senator warner agrees with me. we must keep these questions above politics and partisanship. it's too important to be tainted by anyone trying to score political points. with that, again, i welcome you director and i turn to the vice chairman for any comment he is might have. >> thank you, mr. chairman. let me start by thanking all
6:57 pm
the members of the committee for the seriousness in which they've taken on this task. mr. comey, thank you for agreing to come testify as part of this committee's investigation into russia. i realize that this hearing has been the focus of a lot of washington in the last few days. senator warner: the truth is, many americans may be tuning in today probably haven't focused on every twist and turn of the investigation. so i'd like to briefly describe, at least from this senator's standpoint, what we already know and what we're still investigating. to be clear, this investigation is not about relitigating the election. it's not about who won or lost. and it sure as heck is not about democrats versus republicans. we're here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple.
6:58 pm
not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process our presidential election. russian spies engaged in a series of online cyber raids and a broad campaign of disinformation. sowing ately aimed at chaos to undermine public faith in our process , in our leadership and ultimately in ourselves. that's not just this senator's opinion. it is the annapolis determination of the entire u.s. intelligence community. so we must find out the full story. hat the russians did, some other colleagues mentioned, why they were so successful. and more importantly we must determine the necessary steps to take to protect our democracy and ensure they can't do it again. the chairman mentioned
6:59 pm
elections in 2018 and 2020. in my home state of virginia we have elections this year , in 2017. simply put, we can in the let anything or anyone prevent us from getting to the bottom of this now mr. comey, let me say t the outset, we haven't always agreed on every issue. in fact i've questioned some of the actions you've taken. but i have never had any reason to question your integrity, your expertise, or your intelligence. you've been a straight shooter with this committee and have been willing to speak truth to power, even at the risk of your own career. which makes the way in which you were fired by the president ultimately shocking. we began this entire process with the president and his staff first denying the russians were ever involved and
7:00 pm
falsely claiming that no one from his team was ever in touch with any russians. we know that's just not the truth. numerous trump associates had undisclosed contacts with russians before and after the election, including the president's attorney general, his former national security advisor, and his current senior advisor, mr. kushner. that doesn't even begin to count the host of additional campaign associates and advisers who have also been caught up in this massive web. we saw mr. trump's campaign manager, mr. manafort, forced to step down over ties to russian-backed entities. the national security advisor, general flynn, had to resign over his lies about engagements with the russians. and we saw the candidate himself express an odd and unexplained affection for the russian dictator, while calling for the hacking of his opponent. affection for the russ
7:01 pm
there's a lot to investigation. then director comey publicly acknowledged he was leading an investigation into those links between mr. trump's campaign and the russian government. trump's campaign and the russian government. as the director of the fbi, mr. comey was ultimately responsible for conducting that investigation. which might explain why you're sitting now as a private citizen. what we didn't know was that the same time this investigation was proceeding, the president himself appears to have been engaged in an effort to influence, or at least co-opthe director of the fbi. the testimony mr. comey has submitted for today's hearing is very disturbing. on january 27th after summoning director comey to dinner. the president appears to have threatened the director's job while telling him, quote, i need
7:02 pm
loyalty. i expect loyalty. at a later meeting, on february 14th, the president asked the attorney general to leave the oval office so that he could privately ask director comey, again, quote, to see way clear to letting flynn go. that is a statement that director comey interpreted as a request that he drop the investigation connected to general flynn's false statements. think about it. the president of the united states asking the fbi director to drop an ongoing investigation. and after that, the president called the fbi director on two additional occasions, march 30th and april 11th. and asked him, again, quote, to lift the cloud on the russian investigation. now, director comey denied each of these improper requests. the loyalty pledge, the adminition to drop the flynn
7:03 pm
investigation, the request to lift the cloud, and the russian investigation. of course, after his refusals, director comey was fired. the initial explanation for the firing didn't pass any smell tests. somehow director comey was fired because he didn't treat hillary clinton appropriately. of course, that explanation lasted about a day because the president himself then made very clear that he was thinking about russia when he decided to fire director comey. shockingly, reports suggest that the president admitted as much in an oval office meeting with the russians the day after director comey was fired. disparaging our country's top law enforcement official is a quote unquote, nut job. the president allegedly suggested his firing relieved great pressure on his feelings
7:04 pm
about russia. this is not happening in isolation. at the same time the president was engaged in these efforts with director comey he was also, at least allegedly asking senior leaders of the intelligence community to downplay the russian investigation or to intervene with the director. yesterday, we had dni director coats and nsa director admiral rogers who were offered a number of opportunities to flatly deny those press reports. they expressed their opinions, but they did not take that opportunity to deny those reports. they did not take advantage of that opportunity. my belief, that's not how a president of the united states should behave. regardless of the outcome of our investigation into the russia links, director comey's firing and his testimony raised separate and troubling questions that we must get to the bottom of. again, as i said at the outset
7:05 pm
i've seen first-hand how seriously every member of this committee is taking his work. i'm proud of the committee's efforts so far. let me be clear, this is not a witch-hunt. this is not fake news. it is an effort to protect our country from a new threat that quite honestly will not go away anytime soon. so, mr. comey, your testimony here today will help us move towards that goal. i look forward to that testimony, thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you, vice chairman. director, as discussed when you agreed to appear before the committee. it would be under oath. i ask you to please stand, raise your right hand. do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god. please be seated. director comey you're now under oath. and i would just note to members, you will be recognized
7:06 pm
by seniority for a period up to seven minutes, and, again, it's the intent to move to a closed session no later than 1:00 p.m. with that, director comey, you are recognized. you have the floor for as long as you might need. >> thank you, mr. chairman. ranking member warner, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here to testify today. i have submitted my statement for the record and i'm not going to repeat it here this morning. i thought i would offer brief introductory remarks and i would welcome your questions. when i was appointed fbi director in 2013, i understood that i served at the pleasure of the president. even though i was appointed to a ten year term, which congress created in order to underscore the importance of the fbi being outside of politics and independent, i understood that i could be fired by a president for any reason or for no reason at all. and on may 9th when i learned i
7:07 pm
had been fired for that reason i immediately came home as a private citizen. but then the explanations, the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me. they confused me because the president that i had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office, and he had repeatedly told me i was doing a great job and he hoped i would stay. and i had repeatedly assured him that i did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term. he told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me. including our current attorney general. and had learned i was doing a great job. and that i was extremely well-liked by the fbi work force. so it confused me when i saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the russia investigation. and learned, again, from the media that he was telling privately other parties that my
7:08 pm
firing had relieved great pressure on the russian investigation. i was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that i was fired because of the decisions i had made during the election year. that didn't make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions had had to be made. that didn't make any sense to me. and although the law required no reason at all to fire an fbi director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the fbi by saying that the organization was in disarray. that it was poorly led. that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. those were lies, plain and simple. and i am so sorry that the fbi workforce had to hear them and i'm so sorry the american people were told them. i worked every day at the fbi to help make that great organization better.
7:09 pm
as a help, because i did nothing alone at the fbi. there are no indispensable people at the fbi. the organization's great strength is that its value and abilities run deep and wide. the fbi will be fine without me. the fbi's mission will be relentlessly pursued by its people and that mission is to protect the american people and uphold the constitution of the united states. i will deeply miss being part of that mission, but this organization and its mission will go on long beyond me and long beyond any particular administration. i have a message before i close for the -- for my former colleagues of the fbi. first i want the american people to know this truth. the fbi is honest. the fbi is strong. and the fbi is and always will be independent. and now to my former colleagues, if i may, i am so sorry i didn't get the chance to say good bye to you properly. it was the honor of my life to
7:10 pm
serve beside you, to be part of the fbi family and i will miss it for the rest of my life. thank you for standing watch, thank you for doing so much good for this country. do that good as long as ever you can. and senators, i look forward to your questions. >> director, thank you for that testimony, both oral and the written testimony that you provided to the committee yesterday and made public to the american people. the chair would recognize himself first for 12 minutes, vice chair for 12 minutes based upon the agreement we have. director, did the special counsel's office review and/or edit your written testimony? >> no. >> do you have any doubt that russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election? >> none. >> do you have any doubt that the russian government was
7:11 pm
behind the intrusions in the dnc and dccc systems and the subsequent leaks of that information? >> no, no doubt. >> do you have any doubt that the russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? >> no. >> do you have any doubt that officials of the russian government were fully aware of these activities? >> no doubt. >> are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered? >> i'm confident. when i left as director i had seen no indication of that whatever. >> director comey, did the president at any time ask you to stop the fbi investigation into russian involvement in the 2016 u.s. elections? >> not to my understanding, no. >> did any individual working for this administration, including the justice department, ask you to stop the russian investigation? >> no. >> director, when the president
7:12 pm
requested that you -- and i quote -- let flynn go, general flynn had an unreported contact with the russians. which is an offense. and if press accounts are right, there might have been discrepancies between facts and his fbi testimony. in your estimation, was general flynn at that time in serious legal jeopardy? in addition to that, do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice or just seek for a way for mike flynn to save face, given he had already been fired? >> general flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy. there was an open fbi criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the russian contacts. and the contacts themselves. and so that was my assessment at the time. i don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation i had
7:13 pm
with the president was an effort to obstruct. i took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning. but that's a conclusion i'm sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that's an offense. >> director, is it possible that as part of this fbi investigation the fbi could find evidence of crimality that is not tied to the 2016 elections, possible collusion, or coordination with russians? >> sure. >> so there could be something that just fits a criminal aspect to this that doesn't have anything to do with the 2016 election cycle? >> correct, in any complex investigation when you start turning over rocks sometimes you find things that are unrelate today the primary investigation that are criminal in nature. >> director, comey you have been you criticized publicly for your decision to present your findings on the e-mail investigation directly to the american people.
7:14 pm
have you learned anything since that time that would have changed what you said or how you chose to inform the american people? >> honestly, no. it caused a whole lot of personal pain for me, but as i look back, given what i knew at the time and even what i've learned since i think it was the best way to try and protect the justice institution, including the fbi. >> in the public domain, is this question of the steel dossier a document that has been around now for over a year, i'm not sure when the fbi first took possession of it, but the media had it before you had it and we had it. at the time of your departure from the fbi, was the fbi able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the steel document? >> mr. chairman, i don't think that's a question i can answer in an open setting. it goes into the details of the
7:15 pm
investigation. >> director, the term we hear most often is collusion. when people are describing possible links between americans and russian government entities related to the interference in our election, would you say that it's normal for foreign governments to reach out to members of an incoming administration? >> yes. >> at what point does the normal contact cross the line into an attempt to recruit agents or influence or spies? >> difficult to say in the abstract. it depends on the context, whether there's an effort to keep it covert. what the nature of the request made to the american. it's a judgment call based on a whole lot of facts. >> at what point would that recruitment become a
7:16 pm
counterintelligence threat to our country? >> difficult to answer in the abstract. but when a foreign power is using -- especially coercion or some sort of pressure to try to co-opt an american, especially a government official to act on its behalf that's a serious concern to the fbi and at the heart of the fbi's counterintelligence mission. >> if you've got a 36 page document of specific claims that are out there, the fbi would have to -- for counterintelligence reasons -- try to verify anything that might be claimed in there, one, and probably first and foremost, is the counterintelligence concerns that we have about blackmail? would that be an accurate statement? >> yes if the fbi receives a credible allegation there is some attempt to coerce an american on behalf of a foreign power that's the basis on which
7:17 pm
a case is open. >> when you read the dossier, what was your reaction given that it was 100% directed at the president elect? >> not a question i can answer in an open setting, mr. chairman. >> okay. when did you become aware of the cyber intrusion? >> the first -- all kinds of cyber intrusions going on all the time. the first russia connected cyber intrusion i became aware of in the late summer of 2015. >> and in that timeframe there were more than the dnc and dccc that were targets? >> correct, there was a massive effort to target government and non-governmental -- near governmental agencies like non-profits. >> what would be the estimate of how many entities out there the russians specifically targeted in that timeframe? >> it's hundreds, i suppose it could be more than a thousand. but it's at least hundreds. >> when did you become aware
7:18 pm
that data had been exfiltrated? >> i'm not sure exactly. i think either late '15 or early '16. >> did you, the director of the fbi, have conversations with the last administration about the risk that this posed? >> yes. >> and share with us, if you will, what actions they took. >> well, the fbi had already undertaken an effort to notify all the victims, and that's what we consider the entities that were attacked as part of this massive spear phishing campaign. we notified them in an effort to disrupt what might be ongoing. and then there was a series of continuing interactions with entities through the rest of '15 into '16 and throughout '16 the administration was trying to decide how to respond to the intrusion activity it saw. >> the fbi in this case, unlike other cases you might
7:19 pm
investigate, did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked? or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data they had collected? >> in the case of the dnc we did not have access to the devices themselves. we got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high class entity that had done the work. we didn't get direct access. >> no content? >> correct. >> isn't content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint? >> it is. although what was briefed to me by my folks, the people who were my folks at the time is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016. >> let me go back, if i can, very briefly to the decision to publicly go out with your
7:20 pm
results on the e-mail. was your decision influenced by the attorney general's tarmac meeting with the former president, bill clinton? >> yes, in an ultimately conclusive way that's the thing that capped it for me that i had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation which meant both the fbi and the justice department. >> were there other things that contributed to that that you can describe in an open session? >> there were other things that contributed to that. one significant item i can't. i know the committee's been briefed on. there's been public accounts of it which are nonsense. but i understand the committee has been briefed on the classified facts. the only other consideration i can talk about in an open session, she told me to call it matter, which confused me and concerned me. but that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to
7:21 pm
conclude i have to step away from the department if we're to close this case credibly. >> director, my last question, you're not only a seasoned prosecutor, you've led the fbi for years. you understand the investigative process. you've worked with this committee closely and we're grateful to you because i think we've mutually built trust in what your organization does and what we do. is there any doubt in your mind that this committee can carry out its oversight role in the 2016 russian involvement in the elections in parallel with the now special counsel that's been set up? >> no, no doubt. it can be done. it requires lots of conversations. bob mueller is one of these country's great pros and i'm sure you'll be able to work it out with him to run it in parallel. >> i want to thank you once again and i want to turn to the
7:22 pm
vice chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman. director comey, thank you for your service. your comments to your fbi family, i know were heart felt. know that even though there are some in the administration who have tried to smear your reputation, you had acting director mccabe in public testimony a few weeks back and in public testimony yesterday, reaffirm that the vast majority of fbi community had great trust in your leadership. and, obviously, trust in your integrity. i want to go through a number of the meetings that you referenced in your testimony. and let's start with the january 6th meeting in trump tower. where you went up with a series of officials to brief the president elect on the russia investigation. my understanding is you remained afterwards to brief him on again, quote, some personally sensitive aspects of the information you relayed.
7:23 pm
now you said after that briefing, you felt compelled to document that conversation that you actually started documenting as soon as you got into the car. now, you've had extensive experience at the department of justice and at the fbi, you've worked on the president's of both parties, what was it about that meeting that led you to determine that you needed to start putting down a written record? >> a combination of things. i think the circumstances, the subject matter and the person i was interacting with. circumstances first, i was alone with the president of the united states. or the president elect, soon to be president. the subject matter, i was talking about matters that touch on the fbi's core responsibility and it related to the president elect personally. and then the nature of the person. i was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so i thought it
7:24 pm
important to document. that combination of things i had never experienced before but it led me to believe i got to riwre it down in a very detailed way. >> i think that's a very important statement you just made. and my understanding is that then, again, unlike your dealings with presidents of either parties in your past experience, in every subsequent meeting or conversation with this president, you created a written record. did you feel you needed to create this written record of these memos because they might need to be relied on at some future date? >> sure. i created records after conversations -- i think i did it after each of our nine conversations, if i didn't, i did them for nearly all of them. especially the ones that were substantive. i knew there might come a day where i might need a record to defend not just myself but the
7:25 pm
fbi, and our integrity and the independent. that's what made it so difficult. it was a combination of circumstances, subject matter and a particular person. >> this was the only president that you felt like in every meeting you need today document because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting? >> that's right, senator. and i -- as i said in my written testimony. as fbi director i interacted with president obama and spoke only twice in three years and didn't document it. when i was deputy attorney general i had one one-on-one meeting with president bush about a national security matter. i didn't document that conversation either. i didn't feel with president bush the need to document it in that way. because of the combination of those factors, just wasn't present with either president bush or president obama. >> i think that's very significant. i think others will probably question that. now, our chairman and i have
7:26 pm
requested those memos. it's our hope that the fbi will get this committee access to those memos. we can read that contemporaneous rendition so we've got your side of the story. i know members have said and press have said that if you were -- a great deal has been made whether the president -- whether you were asked whether the president was the subject of any investigation. my understanding is prior to your meeting on january 6th you discussed with your leadership team whether or not you should be prepared to assure then president elect trump that the fbi was not investigating him personally. now my understanding is your leadership team agreed with that. but was that a unanimous decision? was there any debate about that? >> wasn't unanimous. one of the members of the leadership team had a view that although it was technically true
7:27 pm
we did not have a counterintelligence file case open on then president elect trump. his concern was because we're looking at the potential, again, that's the subject of the investigation, coordination between the campaign and russia because it was president trump, president elect trump's campaign, this person's view was inevitably his behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work and so he was reluctant to make the statement that i made. i disagreed. i thought it was fair to say what was literally true. there is not a counterintelligence investigation of mr. trump. and i decided in the moment to say it given the nature of our conversation. >> at that moment in time, did you ever revisit that in the subsequent sessions? >> with the fbi leadership team? sure. and the leader had that view, it didn't change. his view was still it was probably, although literally true, his concern was it could be misleading because the nature
7:28 pm
of the investigation was such that it might well touch -- obviously it would touch the campaign and the person the head of the campaign would be the candidate. that was his view throughout. >> let me move to the january 27th dinner where you said the president began by asking whether i wanted to stay on as fbi director. he indicated lots of people wanted the job. you go on to say that the dinner itself was seemingly an effort to quote, have you ask him for your job and create some sort of quote unquote, patronage relationship. the president seems from, my reading of your memo, to be holding your job or your possibility of continuing your job over your head in a fairly direct way. what was your impression and what did you mean by this notion of a patronage relationship? >> well, my impression, again, it's my impression, i could
7:29 pm
always be wrong. my commonsense told me that what was going on is either he had concluded or someone had told him that you didn't -- you've already asked comey to stay and you didn't get anything for it. and that the dinner was an effort to build a relationship -- in fact he asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay. as i said, what was odd about that we had already talked twice about it by that point and he'd said i hope you'll stay. in fact, i just remembered sitting here a third one, you've seen the picture of me walking across the blue room. and what the president whispered in my ear was i really look forward to working with you. >> that was just a few days before you were fired. >> that was on the sunday after the inauguration. the next friday i have dinner, and the president begins by wanting to talk about my job. and so i'm sitting there thinking, wait a minute, three times we've already -- you've asked me to stay or talked about me staying. i could be wrong, but my
7:30 pm
commonsense told me what's going on here is, he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my requests to stay in the job. >> again, we all understand. i was a governor, i had people work for me. this constant requests, again, quoting you, him saying that he -- you explained your independence he came back to i need loyalty, i expect loyalty. have you ever had any of those kind of requests from anyone else you ever worked for in the government? >> no. what made me uneasy. i'm at that point the director of the fbi. the reason that congress created a ten year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they're serving at -- with political loyalty owed to any particular person. the statute of justice has a blindfold on because you're not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is seeing what you're doing. it's about the law.
7:31 pm
that's why i became fbi director to be in that kind of position. that's why i was uneasy. >> let me move on. february 14th. it seems a bit strange, you were in a meeting. and your direct superior, the attorney general, was in that meeting as well, yet the president asked everyone to leave, including the attorney general to leave before he brought up the matter of general flynn. what was your impression of that type of action? have you ever seen anything like that before? >> no. my impression was something big was about to happen. i need to remember every single word that is spoken. again, i could be wrong. i'm 56 years old, i've been -- seen a few things. my sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving which is why he was lingering. i don't know mr. kushner well but i think he picked up on the same thing. i knew something was about to happen and i needed to pay close attention to. >> i found it very interesting that in the memo that you wrote
7:32 pm
after this february 14th pull aside, you made clear that you wrote that memo in a way that was unclassified. if you affirmatively made the decision to write a memo that was unclassified, was that because you felt at some point the facts of that meeting would have to come clean and come clear and actually be able to be cleared in a way that could be shared with the american people? >> well, i remember thinking this is a very disturbing development. really important to our work. i need to document it and preserve it in a way, this committee gets this, but sometimes when things are classified, it tangles them up. it's hard -- >> amen. >> -- to share it within an investigative team. you have to be careful how you handle it, for good reason. my thinking was if i write it in such a way that i don't include anything that would trigger classification. that would make it easier for us
7:33 pm
to discuss within the fbi and the government and to hold on to it in a way that makes it accessible to us. >> again, it's our hope, particularly since you pretty knowledgeable guy and you wrote this in a way that was unclassified that this committee will get access to that unclassified document. i think it would be very important to our investigation. let me just ask this in closing, how many ongoing investigations at any time does the fbi have? >> tens of thousands. >> tens of thousands. did the president ever ask about any other ongoing investigation? >> no. >> did he ever ask about you trying to interfere on any other investigation? >> no. >> i think, again, this speaks volumes, this doesn't even get to the questions around the phone calls about lifting the cloud. i know other members will get to that. but i really appreciate your testimony and appreciate your service to our nation. >> thank you, senator warner. i'm sitting here going through
7:34 pm
my contacts. i had one conversation with the president that was classified where he asked about our -- an ongoing intelligence investigation, it was brief and entirely i understood him to be saying what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to flynn's account of his conversations with the russians. >> now, here's the question. you're big, you're strong. i know the oval office and i know what happens to people when they walk in. there is a certain amount of intimidation. but why didn't you stop and say, mr. president, this is wrong? i cannot discuss this with you. >> it is a great question. maybe if i were stronger i would have, i was so stunned by the conversation that i just took it in. and the only thing i could think to say, because i was playing in my mind, remember, every word he said was playing in my mind,
7:35 pm
what should my response be and that's why i very carefully chose the words. look, i've seen the tweet about tapes. i hope there are tapes. i remember saying i agree he's a good guy as a way of saying i'm not agreeing with what you asked me to do. maybe other people would be stronger in tha with the wishes of the boss? >> yes. at least consider how what you're doing will affect the boss as a significant consideration. >> let me turn to the attorney general. in your statement, you said that you and the fbi leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with attorney general sessions. even though he had not recused himself. what was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the fbi to make this decision? >> our judgment as i recall was
7:36 pm
that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons, we also were aware of facts that i can't discuss in an open setting, that would make his continued engagement in a russia related investigation problematic and so we were -- we were convinced and in fact, i think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with russia related matters much longer. that turned out to be the case. >> how would you characterize attorney general sessions adherence to his recusal? in particular with regard to his involvement in your firing which the president has acknowledged was because of the russian investigation. >> that's a question i can't answer, i think it is a reasonable question. if as firing. >> i don't. i don't. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator collins.
7:37 pm
>> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. comey, let me begin by thanking you for your volunteer compliance with our request to appear before this committee and assist us in this very important investigation i want first to ask you about your conversations with the president, the three conversations in which you told him that he was not under investigation the first during the january 6th meeting according to your testimony in which it appears you actually volunteered that assurance, is that correct? >> that's correct. >> did you limit that statement to counterintelligence investigations or were you talking about any kind of fbi investigation? >> i didn't use the term counterintelligence. i was speaking to him and briefing him about some
7:38 pm
salacious and unverified material. it was in a context of that that he had a strong and defensive reaction about that not being true, and my reading of it was, it was important for me to assure him we were not personally investigating him, and so the context then was actually narrower, focused on what i just talked to him about but very important because it was first true and second i was very, very much about being in kind of a -- kind of a jay edgar hoover type situation. i didn't want him thinking i was briefing him on this, to sort of hang it over him in some way, i was briefing him on it because we had been told by the media it was about to launch, we don't want to be keeping that from him, and if there was -- he needed to know this was being said. but i was very keen not to leave him with an impression that the bureau was trying to do something to him, and so that's the context in which i said, sir, we're not personally investigating you. >> and then on -- and that's why
7:39 pm
you volunteered the information. then on the january 27th dinner, you told the president that he should be careful about asking you to investigate because, quote, you might create a narrative that we are investigating him personally, which we weren't. were you limiting that statement to counterintelligence investigations or more broadly such as a criminal investigation? >> the context was similar, i didn't modify the word investigation. again, he was reacting strongly against that unverified material saying i'm tempting you to order to investigate it and i said you want to be careful about that because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally. >> then there was the march 30th phone call and with the president in which you reminded him that congressional leaders have been briefed, that we were not personally, the fbi was not
7:40 pm
personally investigating president trump. and, again, was that statement to congressional leaders and to the president limited to counterintelligence investigations or was it a broader statement? i'm trying to understand whether there was any kind of investigation of the president under way. >> no. i'm sorry, if i misunderstood, i apologize. we briefed the congressional leadership about what americans we had opened counterintelligence investigation cases on, and we specifically said the president is not one of those americans. but that -- there was no other investigation of the president that we were not mentioning at that time. the context was counterintelligence. i wasn't trying to hide a criminal investigation. >> was the president under investigation at the time of your dismissal on may 9th?
7:41 pm
>> no. >> i'd like to now turn to the conversations with the president about michael flynn, which have been discussed at great length. and, first, let me make very clear that the president never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go, to let the investigation go. but i remain puzzled by your response. your response was i agree that michael flynn is a good guy. you could have said, mr. president, this meeting is inappropriate, this response could compromise the investigation. you should not be making such a request. it is fundamental to the operation of our government, that the fbi be insulated from this kind of political pressure. and you've talked a bit today
7:42 pm
about that you were stunned by the president making the request. but my question to you is later on, upon reflection, did you go to anyone at the department of justice and ask them to call the white house counsel's office and explain that the president had to have a far better understanding and appreciation of his role, vis-a-vis the fbi? >> in general, i did. i spoke to the attorney general, and i spoke to the new deputy attorney general mr. rosenstein when he took office and explained my serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the fbi. and i specifically as i said in my opinion, i asked the attorney general, it can't happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me. in the room, and -- but why didn't we raise the specific --
7:43 pm
it was an investigative interest to us to try to figure out what just happened with the president's request so i would not have wanted to alert the white house that it had happened until we figured out what are we going to do with this investigatively. >> your testimony was that you went to attorney general sessions and said, don't ever leave me alone with him again. are you saying that you also told him that he had made a request that you let it go, with regard to part of the investigation of michael flynn in. >> no, i specifically did not. i did not. >> you mentioned that from your very first meeting with the president, you decided to write a memo, memorializing the conversation. what was it about that very first meeting that made you write a memo when you had not done that with two previous
7:44 pm
presidents? >> as i said, a combination of things, a gut feeling is an important overlay on it, but the circumstances that i was alone, the subject matter, and the nature of the person that i was interacting with and my read of that person. and, yeah, and really just a gut feel laying on top of all of that, that this is going to be important to protect this organization that i make records of this. >> and finally, did you show copies of your memos to anyone outside of the department of justice? >> yes. >> and to whom did you show copys? >> i asked president tweeted on friday after i got fired that i better hope there is not tapes. i woke up in the middle of the night on monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, might be a tape, my judgment was i needed to get that out into the public square and so i asked a friend of mine
7:45 pm
to share the content of the memo with a reporter. didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons, but asked him to, because i thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. i asked a close friend of mine to do that. >> was that mr. wittous? >> no. >> who was that? >> a good friend of mine, professor at column abobia law school. >> thank you. >> senator heinrich. >> mr. comey, prior to january 27th of this year, have you ever had a one on one meeting or a private dinner with a president of the united states? >> no. dinner, no, i had two one on ones with president obama i laid out in my testimony, one to talk about law enforcement issues, law enforcement and race, an important topic throughout for me, and for the president, and then once very briefly for him to say good-bye. >> were those brief interactions? >> no. the one about law enforcement and race, we spoke for probably
7:46 pm
over an hour, just the two of us. >> how unusual is it to have a one on one dinner with the president? did that strike you as odd? >> yeah, so much so that i assumed there would be others that he couldn't possibly be having dinner with me alone. >> if -- do you have an impression that if you had found -- if you behaved differently in that dinner, and i'm quite pleased you did not, but if you had found a way to express some sort of expression of loyalty or given some suggestion that the flynn criminal investigation might be pursued less vigorously, do you think you would have still been fired? >> i don't know. it is impossible to say looking back. i don't know. >> but you felt like those two things were directly relevant to
7:47 pm
your -- the kind of relationship that the president was seeking to establish with you? >> sure, yes. >> the president has repeatedly talked about the russian investigation into the u.s. -- the russia involvement in the u.s. election cycle as a hoax and as fake news. can you talk a little bit about what you saw as fbi director and obviously only the parts that you can share in this setting that demonstrate how serious this action actually was, and why there was an investigation in the first place. >> yes, sir. the -- there should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. the russians interfered in our election during 2016 cycle. they did it with purpose. they did it with sophistication. they did it with overwhelming technical efforts. and it was an active measure campaign driven from the top of
7:48 pm
the government. there is no fuzz on that. it is a high confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community and the members of this committee have seen the intelligence, it is not a close call. that happened. that's about as unfake as you can possibly get and is very, very serious, which is why it is so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that. because this is about america, not about any particular party. >> so that was a hostile act by the russian government against this country? >> yes, sir. >> did the president in any of those interactions that you have shared with us today asked you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing or the intelligence community to protect america against russian interference in our election system? >> i don't recall a conversation like that. >> never. >> no. >> do you find it odd. >> not with president trump, who attended a fair number of meetings on that with president obama. >> do you find it odd that the
7:49 pm
president seemed unconcerned about by russia's actions in our election? >> i can't answer that because i don't know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. so i just don't know sitting here. >> did you have any interactions with the president that suggested he was taking that hostile action seriously? >> i don't remember any interactions with the president other than the initial briefing on january 6th, i don't remember -- could be wrong, but i don't remember any conversations with him at all about that. >> as you're very aware, it was only the two of you in the room for that dinner, you told us the president asked you to back off the flynn investigation, the president told a reporter -- >> not in that dinner. >> fair enough. >> told a reporter he never did that. you testified that the president asked for your loyalty in that
7:50 pm
dinner. the white house denies that. a lot of this comes down to who should we believe. do you want to say anything as to why we should believe you? >> my mother raised me not to say things like this about myself, so i'm not going to. i think people should look at the whole body of my testimony, because as i used to say to juries, i talked about a witness, you can't cherry pick, i like these things he said, but on this, he's a dirty rotten liar, got to take it all together and i tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate. a really significant fact to me is so why did he kick everybody out of the oval office? why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else? and so that to me is as an investigator is a very significant fact. >> and as we look at testimony
7:51 pm
or communication from both of you, we should probably be looking for consistency. >> well, looking at any witness you look at consistency, track record, demeanor, record over time, that sort of thing. >> thank you. so there are reports that the incoming trump administration either during the transition and/or after the inauguration attempted to set up a sort of back door communication channel with the russian government using their infrastructure, their devices, facilities. what would be the risks, particularly for a transition, someone not actually in the office of the president yet to setting up unauthorized channels with a hostile foreign government, especially if they were to evade our own american intelligence services. >> i'm not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting, the risk is primary risk is obvious, spare the russians the cost and effort of having to break into our communications channels by using
7:52 pm
theirs. and so you make it a whole lot easier to capture all of the conversations and to use those to the benefit of russia against the united states. >> the mimos that you wrote, you wrote -- did you write all nine them in a way that was designed to prevent them from needing classification? >> no. and on a few of the occasions i wrote -- i sent e-mails to my chief of staff or others on some of the brief phone conversations that i recall, the first one was a classified briefing, it wasn't in a skiff, in a conversation room at trump tower, it was a classified briefing and so i wrote that on a classified device. the one i started typing in the car that was a classified laptop that i started working on. >> any reason in a classified environment, in a skiff, that ht loyalty or something like that. is that the characterization? >> yes. >> thank you very much. >> thank you, sir. >> senator reed.
7:53 pm
>> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, director comey. there have been press reports that the president in addition to asking you to drop the flynn investigation, has asked other senior intelligence officials to take steps which would tend to undermine the investigation into russia. there's been reports that he's asked dna coats and admiral rogers to make public statements exonerating him or taking the pressure off him. and also reports about admiral rogers and director pompeo to intervene and reach out to the fbi and ask them. are you aware of any of these or do you have any information with respect to any of these allegations? >> i don't. i'm aware of the public reporting, but i had no contact, no conversation with any of those leaders about that subject. >> thank you.
7:54 pm
you have testified that you interpret it the discussion with the president about flynn as a direction to stop the investigation. is that correct. >> yes. >> you have testified that the president asked you to lift the cloud by essentially making public statements exonerating him and perhaps others. you refused, correct? >> i didn't -- i didn't do it. i didn't refuse. the president. i told him we would see what we could do. second time he called i told him in substance, that's something your lawyer will have to take up with the justice department. >> and part of the underlying logic was we've discussed many times throughout this morning, is the duty to correct. that is one of -- a theoretical issue but also very practical issue. was there, your feeling that the direction of the investigation cog in fact include the
7:55 pm
president? >> well, in theory. i mean as i explained the concern of one of my senior leader colleagues was if you're looking at potential coordination between the campaign and russia, the person at the head of the campaign is the candidate. solange i cannily, this person argued, the candidate's knowledge understanding would logically become part of your inquiry if it proceeds. i understood that argument. my view was that what i said to the president was accurate and fair and fair to him. i resisted the idea of publicly saying it. although if the justice department had wanted to, i would have done it because of the duty to correct and the slippery slope problem. >> and again, also, you've testified that the president asked you repeatedly to be loyal to him and you responded you would be honestly loyal, which is i think your way of saying i'll be honest and i'll be the head of the fbi and independent. is that fair? >> correct.
7:56 pm
i tried honest first. also, i mean, you see it in my testimony. also tried to explain to him why it's in his interest and every president's interest for the fbi to be apart in a way because its credibility is important to a president and to the country. and so i tried to hold the line, hold the line. it got very awkward. i then said you'll always have honesty from me. he said honest loyalty. i acceded to that as a way to end this automatic wafrdness. >> you were summarily fired without any explanation or anything else. >> there was an explanation. i just don't buy it. >> well, yes. so you're fired. do you believe that you were fired because you refused to take the president's direction? is that the ultimate reason? >> i don't know for sure. i know i was fired. again, take the president's words. i know i was fired because of something about the way i was conducting the russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him in some
7:57 pm
way irritating him and he decided to fire me because of that. i can't go farther than that. >> it the russia investigation as you have pointed out and as all my colleagues have reflected is one of the most serious hostile acts against this country in our history. undermining the very core of our democracy in our elections is not a discrete event. it will likely occur. it's probably being prepared now for '18 and '20 and beyond. and yet, the president of the united states fires you because in your own words, some relation to this investigation. and then he shows up in. the oval office with the russian foreign minister first after classifying you as crazy and a real nutjob, which i think you've effectively disproved this morning. he said i face great pressure because of russia. that's taken off. your conclusion would be that the president, i would think, is
7:58 pm
downplaying the seriousness of this threat, in fact, took specific steps to stop a thorough investigation of the russian influence and also from what you've said or what was said this morning, doesn't seem particularly interested in these hostile threats by the russians. is that fair? >> i don't know that i can agree to that level of key tail. because no doubt, that it's a fair judgment. it's my judgment that i was fired because of the russia investigation. i was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the russia investigation was being conducted. that is a very big deal. not just because it involves me. the nature of the fbi and the nature of its work requires that it not be the subject of political consideration. and on top of that, you have the russia investigation itself is
7:59 pm
vital because of the threat and i know i should have said this earlier. it's obvious. if any americans were part of helping the russians do that to us, that is a very big deal. and i'm confident that if that is the case, director mueller will find that evidence. >> finally, the president tweeted that james comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversation before he starts leak together press. was that a rather unsubtle attempt to intimidate you from testifying intimidate anyone else who seriously crosses his path of not doing it? >> i'm not going to sit here and try to interpret the president's tweets. to me, its major impact occurred to me in the middle of the night, holy cow, there might be [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] >> and this is one of those days in washington wheal

7 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on