Comey gave Trump assurances about investigation, but questions remain

PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House, Jan. 22, 2017.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Former FBI Director James Comey alleges Trump said, ' I expect loyalty'

In a sweeping opening statement released ahead of his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey detailed a series of interactions with Donald Trump in which he says the president left him feeling uncomfortable and "concerned," pressed him for "loyalty," pushed him to clear the president's name and drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In the statement, Comey painted a cringe-worthy portrait of his meetings and calls with the newly-minted commander-in-chief -- closed-door meetings, private dinners and phone calls in which he says Trump harped on the subject of Flynn and the Russia investigation. The interactions left him in an "awkward silence" with Trump at one point and drove him to beseech Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to allow "any further direct communication between the President and me."

What Comey and Trump discussed has become a matter of intense debate after news surfaced last month that Trump asked Comey to put the brakes on the Flynn investigation, allegations contained in a memo that was described to ABC News. The alleged request raised the specter of obstruction of justice, but he White House denied wrongdoing.

Read Comey's prepared testimony

Trump's motivations for firing Comey in May have also come under scrutiny. Initially, the White House referred to a letter from the deputy attorney general citing Comey's botched handling of the Clinton investigation, but he later said he was thinking about Russia when he decided to fire Comey.

And Trump's claim in his letter firing Comey that the FBI director assured him three times that he was not under investigation also became a point of contention. Comey associates were skeptical, but the former director is set to testify tomorrow that he did offer those assurances (though it's unclear if Comey was referring to "counter-intelligence" investigations as he states at one point or any investigation).

“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 lawyer Marc Kasowitz said in a statement. "The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”

Here's a look at what Comey is expected to say in his testimony Thursday:

"Loyalty"

In one notable exchange, Comey described a private dinner at the White House on Jan. 27 when Trump turned to his future as FBI director.

"A few moments later, the President said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,'" the statement reads.

"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."

When Trump returned to the top at the end of the dinner, Comey only promised "honesty."

"He paused and then said, 'That’s what I want, honest loyalty,'" the statement said. "I paused, and then said, 'You will get that from me.'"

During a May 12 press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that Trump had asked Comey for loyalty.

"No," Spicer said when asked if "the President implore him to pledge his loyalty to the President."

Flynn

Comey also detailed his version of a Feb. 14 meeting, where he says Trump asked him to drop any investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn after dismissing other advisers, as well as the attorney general, from the Oval Office.

Some have suggested that obstruction of justice may apply to Trump because of his request to Comey about Flynn, but the White House has denied that the president tried to block the probe.

"The president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn," the White House statement from May said.

In Comey's statement, he details Trump's alleged closed-door efforts to get him to look the other way.

“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.” Trump said, according to the prepared statement from Comey.

Trump's alleged request to Comey -- first reported last month after sources described a memo Comey wrote about the matter -- came a day after Flynn had resigned.

Comey, who said he agreed Flynn was a "good guy," writes in his statement that he did not tell Trump he would let the Flynn investigation go.

"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," the statement said. "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. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency."

In the wake of news of the Comey memo last month, some questioned why Comey didn't bring the matter forward at the time. Comey's testimony appears to address that matter.

"The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide," Comey's statement said. "We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account."

The former FBI director said the leadership team concluded "it made little sense" to report Trump's request about Flynn to Sessions, who was expected to recuse himself in the Russia probe, or the acting deputy attorney general, who was not going to be in the role long, Comey wrote.

"After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed," the statement read.

When asked om May 18 if he had "in any way, shape or form" asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation, Trump said "No. No. Next question."

Shutting down communication with Trump

Shortly after his Feb. 14 meeting with Trump, however, Comey had an in-person meeting with Sessions and "implore[d] the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me."

Comey also said that when he mentioned to Sessions that he thought it was "inappropriate" for the president to dismiss the AG from the room but keep the FBI director behind, Sessions "did not reply."

"For the reasons discussed above, I did not mention that the President broached the FBI’s potential investigation of General Flynn," he wrote.

3 assurances Trump was not under investigation

During the interactions, Comey assured Trump three times that he was not "personally" the subject of a counter-intelligence investigation, a fact that Trump allegedly requested he "get out," according to Comey's prepared remarks.

The former FBI director's first encounter with Trump was in Jan. 6 when Trump was president-elect, for an intelligence briefing on the "salacious and unverified" dossier when Trump was president-elect.

"That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him," Comey's testimony reads.

Comey's testimony continues, "During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-elect Trump’s reaction to the [Jan 6] briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance."

The remarks indicate Comey gave Trump similar assurances during a dinner on Jan. 27 and a March 30 phone call.

"Cloud" hanging over the presidency

Over a March 30 phone call, Trump told Comey that the Russia investigation -- which had plagued the new administration for months -- was a "cloud" that was impairing his ability to do his job as president.

"He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud.'" Comey writes.

According to Comey, Trump pushed him to find a way to publicly make known that the FBI isn't investigating him.

"I told him I would see what we could do, and that we would do our investigative work well and as quickly as we could," Comey's testimony states.

Comey then called Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente for guidance.

On April 11 -- the last time Comey spoke to Trump -- the president called Comey, wanting to know what Comey had done to meet his request that he "get out" that Trump is not personally under investigation, Comey's statement said.

Comey informed Trump that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, should notify the Justice Department to make the request.

"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,'" Comey writes.

Trump ultimately made the decision to fire Comey on May 9, an unexpected decision by Trump that Democrats decried and some Republicans questioned.

The president later admitted in an interview with NBC that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made up his mind to fire Comey.