Comey and the Senate Intelligence Committee

Ex-FBI head James Comey will appear in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee overnight New Zealand time.

Some background from the Wall Street Journal:

Comey Testimony: The Highlights

According to Mr. Comey’s prepared remarks:

  • Donald Trump told him in a private, one-on-one dinner at the White House on Jan. 27: “I Need Loyalty, I Expect Loyalty.”
  • Mr. Comey told Mr. Trump in January he was not personally under federal investigation, to which Mr. Trump responded by asking the FBI chief to “get out” that information.
  • In February, Mr. Trump asked him to ‘let this go,’ referring to any inquiry into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired after misleading Vice President Mike Pence over his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
  • Mr. Comey will testify he kept memos documenting his interactions with the president.

WSJ:  Ex-FBI Chief James Comey’s Senate Testimony: Live Coverage

UPDATE

RNZ:  Comey: Trump White House ‘lied’ about the FBI

Mr Comey told a Senate committee they were wrong to denigrate the agency and its leadership.

He was also “confused” by the “shifting explanations” for his sacking, which came as he led a probe into any links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Mr Comey said Mr Trump had repeatedly told him he was doing a “great” job.

He told the panel that the White House “chose to defame me, and more importantly the FBI” by claiming the agency was “poorly led”.

“Those were lies, plain and simple. And I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them,” he continued.

“The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent,” he said in his opening remarks.

Mr Comey said it was a matter of circumstances, the subject matter and the “person I was interacting with”.

“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting” he told the panel of Mr Trump.

“I knew there would come a day that I might need a record, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI,” he said.

But…

…there is no known evidence of collusion and President Donald Trump has dismissed the story as “fake news”.

His spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Thursday hit back at Mr Comey, saying: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar.”

More from Comey:

During Thursday’s testimony, Mr Comey emphasised that Russia’s political meddling was “not a close call”, adding: “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever.”

When asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee whether the president tried to stop the Russia investigation he was conducting, Mr Comey said: “Not to my understanding, no.”

During another meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Comey said the president appealed to him to “let go” an investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to the Kremlin.

When asked how his FBI colleagues reacted to the president telling Mr Comey that he hoped the investigation into Mr Flynn would be dropped, he said: “I think they were as shocked and troubled as I was.”

“They’re all experienced professionals and they had never experienced such a thing,” he said.

“The conversation turned to what we should do about it and that was a struggle for us.”

He said he it was not for him to say whether Mr Trump’s actions were an obstruction of justice.

He calls Trump’s bluff on tapes.

After US media reported the conversation, the president warned Mr Comey in a tweet, saying he “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations”.

Mr Comey told the committee he hoped there were tapes, calling on Mr Trump to release them.

“The president surely knows whether he taped me, and if he did my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all the tapes, I’m good with it,” he said.

The White House has refused to say whether any such tapes exist.

After Mr Trump’s tweet about potential tapes, Mr Comey said he realised it was important to release his own account of the story.

Comey leaked information.

He revealed that he asked a “good friend of mine” who is a professor at Columbia Law School to share contents of the memo with a reporter.

Mr Comey added that he asked for the documents to be leaked in order to build pressure for a special counsel.

And as predicted Team Trump is busy countering Comey’s testimony.

Fox News:  Trump disputes key parts of Comey testimony, sources say

President Trump disputes key elements of former FBI Director James Comey’s Senate testimony, sources close to the president tell Fox News.

Minutes before Comey began testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, sources said Trump has reviewed his prepared remarks and disputes claims that he sought “loyalty” from Comey and pressed him to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

He “did not say it,” a source said, adding, the “language used was not remotely close.”

One of the key details of Comey’s testimony concerns a Jan. 27 dinner where Comey claims Trump told him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”

He also said Trump told him in a subsequent meeting that he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to any investigation of Flynn.

A White House source also confirmed that Trump’s legal team and senior aides are watching Comey’s testimony from the president’s personal dining room near the Oval Office.

Only the attorneys were expected to be watching.

Yeah, right.

Fox News headlines with:  COMEY UNLEASHED: Ex-FBI boss accuses Team Trump of ‘lies’, suggests Lynch covered for Clinton

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before a Senate panel on Thursday could have President Trump’s legal team breathing a sigh of relief since he stopped short of alleging obstruction of justice – but his otherwise scathing comments guarantee the political controversy and Russia-related probes are far from over.

“This is nowhere near the end of our investigation,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said moments after the hearing’s conclusion.

Comey, in his high-profile appearance before the committee, accused the administration of defaming him and said comments made about his competency “were lies, plain and simple.”

Comey also told lawmakers he decided to document meetings he had with Trump because he was “honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature” of their discussions.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on Comey’s comments, telling reporters at a press briefing, “I can definitively say the president is not a liar.”

Comey went further, saying he believes he was fired because of the Russia investigation — and that in a now-famous February meeting, Trump directed him to ease off an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At the same time, Comey told lawmakers that Trump did not ask him to end the Russia investigation as a whole — a key piece of testimony that Trump’s allies were sure to notice.

Asked again if Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, Comey said, “I don’t know. That’s Bob Mueller’s job to sort that out.”

So this is far from over.

Republicans now calling on Sessions to recuse himself

The testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Russian contacts is becoming an escalating problem. Some Republicans are now calling on Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into Russian interference in the US election.

Washington Post: Top Republicans call on Sessions to recuse himself from Russia investigation

Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election amid revelations that he met with the Russian ambassador to the United States as a senator but failed to say so at his recent confirmation hearing.

For the second time in President Trump’s nascent administration, the truthfulness of one of its top officials is coming under intense scrutiny, prompting Democratic leaders to call for Sessions to resign as attorney general. The swift response among some Republicans signaled increasing concern about the potential political fallout.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

More government by Twitter.

He later told reporters: “Let’s let him clarify his statement, and I do think he should recuse himself.” Asked whether his committee would investigate the matter, Chaffetz said, “There are things we are looking at.”

Other calls for Sessions to step down came from across the GOP spectrum. Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), held in high regard at the White House, said in a statement that Sessions “is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.”

Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a swing district in Northern Virginia and is a former Justice Department official, said that Sessions should recuse himself from Russia inquiries and that he “needs to clarify any misconceptions from his confirmation hearing on the matter.”

The comments from prominent Republicans follow revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador during election season.

According to Justice Department officials, Sessions, a top Trump supporter, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice in 2016, including a private meeting in September in his office.

Under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions said that he had not met with any Russian officials.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed calls for Sessions’s recusal as politically motivated.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself,” Spicer said in an interview on Fox News Channel. “He was 100 percent straight with the [Judiciary] committee and I think that people who are choosing to play partisan politics with this should be ashamed of themselves.”

But Sessions has compromised himself – perhaps he’s the one who should be ashamed of himself.

If he doesn’t recuse himself he will leave himself open to allegations and implications of personal interests. At the very least sessions will be a distraction from any investigations.

Questions over Sessions’ testimony

New US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come under fire over sworn testimony given during his confirmation hearing that appears to deny contact with Russian officials during the election campaign.

Fox News: Sessions, Russian ambassador spoke twice during presidential campaign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during last year’s presidential campaign, while Sessions was still a senator.

Reports about the meetings appeared to contradict a statement Sessions made during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general. Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., how he would respond “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” answered Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest and most prominent supporters during the campaign. “I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

When contacted by Fox News late Wednesday, Sessions said, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

But he has at least two meetings with Russian government representatives. He should have at least been open about this.

The disclosure caused renewed calls for Sessions to step aside from an ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The White House has already acknowledged that Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, misled top officials about the nature of his contacts with Kislyak. Flynn initially told Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump advisers that he did not discuss sanctions with the envoy during the transition, though it was later revealed that he did.

It’s fair to question this lack of frankness.

G W Bush’s ethics lawyer:

Washington Post: Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.

When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

In January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: “No.”

In a statement issued Wednesday night, Sessions said he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Sessions may think that semantics give him a way out of this but it doesn’t look good for him or for the Trump administration.

Full and open disclosure at the hearings would have avoided this. Now it looks like Sessions has been avoiding open disclosure, which raises questions about whether he deliberately tried to hide contact with Russians.