WASHINGTON — Former FBI director James Comey will finally make his much-anticipated appearance Thursday on Capitol Hill, providing dramatic testimony that President Trump pressed him to pledge his loyalty and drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ties to Russia.
The Senate Intelligence Committee posted Comey's explosive seven-page statement on its website Wednesday afternoon, ending speculation about what Comey would say to the panel on Thursday. But senators are still anxious to hear directly from Comey and to question him about details of his conversations with Trump and why he kept those details quiet for months.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last month in the midst of the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Comey's written testimony describes several different contacts he had with Trump, including a Jan. 27 dinner where he said the president told him, "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," Comey said of the exchange.
At a Feb. 14 meeting at the White House, Comey said Trump strongly defended Flynn, arguing that his former national security adviser “hadn’t done anything wrong’’ in his prior contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had been fired the day before for lying to administration officials, including Vice President Pence, about his communications with Kislyak.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go," Comey quoted the president as saying. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday that he wasn't sure whether Trump had had a chance to read Comey's statement. The Washington Post reported Trump may use his Twitter account to post reactions to Comey's live testimony.
Trump's defenders pointed to Comey's statement to underscore the president's assertion that the former director had assured him that he wasn't under investigation as part of the Russia probe.
Comey's statement says that he told Trump at their first meeting on Jan. 6 in New York City that the FBI wasn't investigating him personally.
"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," Comey said in his statement. "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."
Trump's lawyer said that was a public acknowledgement that Trump "was not under investigation in any Russian probe.''
"The President feels completely and totally vindicated,'' Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz said in a written statement Wednesday. "He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.''
However, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Comey's testimony "confirms a host of troubling allegations concerning the President's conduct."
"Two stand out: The President sought to obtain a pledge of loyalty from the Director of the FBI during a conversation that centered on whether the Director would be able to keep his job," Schiff said in a statement. "And second, the President effectively asked the Director to drop the investigation of his former National Security Advisor. Congress must now determine whether the Director's refusal to do either — or any other motivation to interfere with or obstruct any part of the Russia investigation — led ultimately to Comey's firing."