Comey Hearing: ‘Those Were Lies, Plain and Simple’

It’s been a month of extraordinary drama since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, rife with leaked details of private memos detailing interactions with the president and the rare appointment of a special counsel to alleviate concerns of White House interference in an ongoing investigation.

See how today’s congressional hearing — one of the most anticipated in recent memory — played out, moment by moment.

Trump’s lawyer releases a statement:

While the President did not respond directly to Comey’s testimony, his personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, spoke with reporters and released this statement about an hour after the session concluded.

12:42 p.m.

Senators Burr and Warner again thanked Comey for his service before adjourning the session.

12:40 p.m.

“I think I would have had some curiosity if it had been about me,” McCain added.

12:36 p.m.

12:30 p.m.

12:24 p.m. ‘The work is going to go on’

12:09 p.m. A lighter moment

There’s a lot Comey can’t say in public, he continues, adding a joke:

A few senators have said they’ll save their questions for the private session, set to begin at 1 p.m.

12:07 p.m.

12:03 p.m.

12:00 p.m.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) asks Comey if Hillary Clinton would have fired him. Comey takes a long pause before answering.

11:58 a.m.

11:55 a.m.

11:47 a.m.

Sen. Angus King asks if Comey took Trump’s words on Flynn as a direction.

11:39 a.m.

Sen. Roy Blunt follows up on the memo that Comey gave to friend.

11:34 a.m.

11:32 a.m.

11:24 a.m. Comey wanted to prompt special prosecutor

Sen. Collins returns to the issue of the memos.

11:17 a.m.

11:08 a.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio presses Comey on why he didn’t push back when Trump brought up Flynn.

11:02 a.m. ‘Lordy, I hope there are tapes’

What President Trump tweeted on May 12:

What Comey said in his hearing:

10:52 a.m.

Sen. James Risch asks Comey to confirm that the president of the United States was not under investigation. Comey confirms. Then the nature of questioning turns back to obstruction of justice.

A Trump response

Almost an hour into the hearing, President Trump has yet to tweet. But his son Donald Trump Jr. sent out a string of tweets in response to the testimony about Flynn.

Read the rest of Trump Jr.’s tweets here.

10:46 a.m.

10:41 a.m.

Sen. Warner asks Comey why he wrote memos after conversations with Trump.

10:36 a.m.

10:30 a.m.

10:20 a.m. Trump administration ‘chose to defame me’

In Comey’s opening, he says he left office intending to return to life as a private citizen. He rejoined the conversation because of what Trump was saying about his firing — he said: “those were lies plain and simple.”

10:14 a.m.

Sen. Warner kicks things off

10:11 a.m.

As the testimony gets underway, cameras flashed on a stoic-looking Comey.

10:07 a.m.

10:03 a.m.

Following the public session, Comey will meet with the committee privately.

9:47 a.m.

9:43 a.m.

9:26 a.m.

9:13 a.m.

What you need to know

The testimony, Comey’s first public comments since his May 9 firing, unfolds against the extraordinary backdrop of an FBI investigation that has shadowed the Trump White House from the outset and threatens to cripple its agenda.

At the time he was fired, Comey had been overseeing the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign for months.

The White House’s stated reasons for firing Comey were contradicted by the president himself, raising questions about whether Trump had fired Comey to derail the Russia investigation.

The White House initially said Trump was acting on the recommendation of Justice Department leaders, citing as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that lambasted Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation. But Trump gave a different explanation when he said in an NBC News interview that he had already decided to dismiss Comey and was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did so.

Trump’s actions and justifications presented the possibility that Trump’s intention was to obstruct justice.

The official release of Comey’s remarks on Wednesday afternoon came shortly after the conclusion of testimony from Comey’s former national security peers who refused to answer senators’ questions about their own interactions with Trump. There have been reports that the president tried to pressure NSA Director Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly push back on the investigation.

The former director’s prepared remarks answered many of the looming questions:

Did the president ask Comey for his loyalty? Yes. “I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey said in his written testimony.

Did the president ask Comey to stop investigating his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn? Yes. “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,” Comey said.

How often did Trump and Comey communicate with each other before he was fired? Nine times, Comey said. “Three in person and six on the phone.”

After one of these encounters, did Comey actually tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he did not want to meet with the president alone again? Yes. “I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me,” Comey said.

But Republicans are likely to press Comey on why he did not raise his concerns about Trump publicly or resign. Some may attempt to divert attention from Comey’s remarks about Trump by focusing on two issues they’ve repeatedly seized on: leaks and revealing the names of Americans in intelligence reports.

The White House said Monday it would not invoke executive privilege over Comey’s upcoming testimony — officials predicted it would look bad otherwise.

Comey, who is used to not answering lawmakers’ questions about ongoing investigations, is not likely to say anything Thursday that could interfere with, or undercut, the ongoing federal investigation into Russia ties. That investigation is being led by Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller.

On Tuesday, Trump was asked what his message for Comey would be. He said, “I wish him luck.” (After the release of Comey’s opening remarks Wednesday, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz said “The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe … [Trump] feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”)

From the opening statement: Comey’s account of previous Trump meetings

Jan. 6, Trump Tower

Comey stays behind in a conference room to speak privately with Trump after intelligence officials brief the president-elect in his New York headquarters about explosive findings that the Russians tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

It is Comey’s job to warn Trump that a dossier containing salacious and unverified allegations about the president-elect is floating around.

Comey skips over Trump’s exact response, but says that “based on President-elect Trump’s reaction,” he assures Trump that his personal conduct isn’t under investigation.

Comey starts writing up a record of the encounter on a laptop in the car as soon as he gets out of the building.

Jan. 7, White House Green Room

Comey gets a midday phone call from now-President Trump inviting him to dinner at the White House that night. Comey’s not sure who else is invited, but assumes other people are coming. It turns out it’s just the two of them, at a small oval table.

Trump asks whether Comey wants to keep his job even though the FBI director had twice before told Trump he wanted to stay on.

This makes Comey uncomfortable, because it feels like Trump is creating a “patronage” situation in which Comey will owe Trump for his job.

Things get stranger from there, when Trump tells Comey: “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 writes. “We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on.”

Trump returns to the salacious allegations against him, calling them disgusting and saying he’s considering ordering Comey to investigate and disprove them. Comey warns that such an investigation could “create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t.”

The president circles back to loyalty.

Trump: “I need loyalty.”

Comey: “You will always get honesty from me.”

Trump: “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.”

Comey: “You will get that from me.”

Comey writes up the whole exchange, and concludes: “It is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently.”

Trump and Comey in the Blue Room on Jan. 22. Getty Images photo.

Feb. 14, Oval Office

Comey is part of a group giving Trump a counter-terrorism briefing, but the president asks him to stay behind at the end.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions lingers, and Trump shoos him away. Senior adviser Jared Kushner lags behind, too, and Trump sends him on his way.

Alone at last, Trump gets right to the point: “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” the president’s fired national security adviser. Trump says he fired Flynn for misleading the vice president about his contact with the Russians but nonetheless calls Flynn a “good guy” and urges Comey to “let this go.” To Comey, it’s a not-so-veiled request that the FBI drop any investigation of Flynn regarding false statements about his contact with the Russians.

To Comey, the president’s request was “very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

At some point, chief of staff Reince Priebus sticks his head in the door by the grandfather clock, a group of people waiting behind him, and Trump waves him off.

Comey offers only that Flynn is a “good guy.”

He adds: “I did not say I would ‘let this go.”’

Comey exits the Oval Office through the door by the grandfather clock, making his way through the crowd of people just outside.

After Comey writes up his latest encounter, he implores Sessions “to prevent any further direct communication between the president and me.”

That turns out to be the last meeting between Trump and Comey, but the two talk by phone at least twice more before Trump fires Comey on May 9.

March 30, phone call

Comey says Trump told him the Russia investigation was creating a “cloud” over his presidency.

And Comey says the president asked him what they could do to “lift the cloud.”

Comey also says Trump told him that he “had nothing to do with Russia” and “had not been involved with hookers in Russia.”