Explaining 'honest loyalty,' 'that thing' and other key terms from Comey's testimony

There were some buzzwords involved.

ByABC News
June 8, 2017, 1:22 PM

— -- There were several key phrases and terms that came up in former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony today.

Here's a breakdown.

Honest loyalty

In his opening statement, which was provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee a day ahead of the hearing, Comey described one exchange where Trump allegedly asked for Comey’s loyalty.

He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That’s what I want, honest loyalty." I paused, and then said, "You will get that from me." As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase "honest loyalty" differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

That thing

There are two "things" that Comey mentioned in his written testimony. The first was “the McCabe thing” which Comey said Trump brought up during their March 30 phone call. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., inquired about that at the hearing today, asking Comey, “Specifically the McCabe thing as you understood it was that McCabe's wife received campaign money from what I assume means Terry McAuliffe.”

Comey replied, “Yes, sir.”

The other "thing" remains more of a mystery.

During an April 11 phone call, Comey said Trump called him to follow-up on his request that Comey publicly "get out" that he was not under investigation. Comey said he had talked to the acting deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and suggested the White House Counsel contact the Department of Justice. He went on to write in his memo:

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." I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the acting deputy attorney general. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked Comey about it in the closing minutes of the hearing.

McCain: You talked about the April 11 phone call, and he said, "Because I've been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know." Did that arouse your curiosity as to what, quote, that thing was?

Comey: Yes.

McCain: Why didn't you ask him?

Comey: It didn't seem to me to be important for the conversation we were having to understand it. I took it to be some -- an effort to communicate to me that there is a relationship between us where I've been good to you, you should be good to me.

McCain: But I would think it would intensely arouse my curiosity if the president of the United States said we had that thing, you know. I'd like to know what the hell that thing is, particularly if I'm the director of the FBI.

Comey: Yeah. I get that, senator. Honestly, I'll tell you what. This is speculation, but what I concluded at the time is in his memory he was searching back to our encounter at the dinner and was preparing himself to say I offered loyalty to you, you promised loyalty to me and all of a sudden his memory showed him that did not happen and I think he pulled up short. That's just a guess. A lot of conversations over the years.

McCain: I think I would have had some curiosity if it had been about me to be honest with you.


Early on, there was a big moment when Comey was questioned over some of the language that Trump used when talking about Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Comey recounted that Trump said “I hope you can let this go” when talking about Flynn, who had been fired the previous day. During today’s hearing, Comey was asked if he knew “of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or for that matter any other criminal offense where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?”

Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., responded to the exchange on Twitter, posting: “Hoping and telling are two very different things, you would think that a guy like Comey would know that. #givemeabreak.”

Later, at different points, Comey touched on one of Trump’s more controversial tweets, when he alluded to the possibility that there were recordings of their conversations.

At one point he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” Later he commented, “I hope [there] are [tapes]. I'll consent to the release.”


At the beginning of the hearing, Comey defined counterintelligence investigations as ones that "tend to be centered on individuals the FBI suspects to be witting or unwitting agents of that foreign power."

"It is important to understand that FBI counterintelligence investigations are different than the more commonly known criminal investigative work. The bureau’s goal in a counterintelligence investigation is to understand the technical and human methods that hostile foreign powers are using to influence the United States or to steal our secrets," Comey wrote.

Comey went on to write that before his Jan. 6 meeting with the president, he asked his team at the FBI if it was appropriate to assure Trump that he was not being investigated.

"That was true; we did not have an open counterintelligence case on him," Comey wrote.

He reiterated that sentiment during today's hearing, saying that when he conferred with his team, there was one person who thought Comey shouldn't tell Trump anything about the status of the Russia investigations. Today, Comey said, "I disagreed. I thought it was fair to say what was literally true, there was not a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump. I decided in the moment to say it given the nature of the conversation."

No fuzz

Comey emphasized at the hearing that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did with purpose, they did with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts and it was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government,” Comey said during one exchange during today’s hearing.

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