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Washington, D.C. - At a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing this morning, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the committee, questioned former FBI Director James Comey.
A transcript of Senator Collins’ Q&A with the Mr. Comey follows:
COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Comey, let me begin by thanking you for your voluntary compliance with our request to appear before this committee and assist us in this very important investigation. I want, first, to ask you about your conversations with the president, the three conversations in which you told him that he was not under investigation. The first was during your January 6th meeting, according to your testimony, in which it appears that you actually volunteered that assurance. Is that correct?
COMEY: That's correct.
COLLINS: Did you limit that statement to counterintelligence investigations, or were you talking about any kind of F.B.I. investigation?
COMEY: I didn't use the term counterintelligence. I was speaking to him and briefing him about some salacious and unverified material. It was in the context of that that he had a strong and defensive reaction about that not being true. My reading of it was it was important for me to assure him we were not personally investigating him. So the context then was actually narrower, focused on what I just talked to him about. It was very important because it was, first, true, and second, I was very much about being in kind of a J. Edgar Hoover type situation. I didn't want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way. I was briefing him on it because we had been told by the media that it was about to launch. We didn't want to be keeping that from him. He needed to know this was being said. But I was very keen not to leave him with an impression that the Bureau was trying to do something to him. So that's the context in which I said, “Sir, we're not personally investigating you.”
COLLINS: And that's why you volunteered the information?
COMEY: Yes, ma'am.
COLLINS: Then on the January 27th dinner, you told the President that he should be careful about asking you to investigate because, quote, “you might create a narrative that we are investigating him personally, which we weren’t.” Again, were you limiting that statement to counterintelligence investigations or more broadly such as a criminal investigation?
COMEY: The context was similar. I didn’t modify the word “investigation.” Again, he was reacting strongly against the unverified material saying, “I’m tempted to order you to investigate it.” In the context of that I said “Sir, you ought to be careful about that, it might create a narrative that we’re investigating you personally.”
COLLINS: And then there was the March 30th phone call with the President in which you reminded him that congressional leaders had been briefed that the F.B.I. was not personally investigating President Trump. Again, was that statement to congressional leaders and to the president limited to counterintelligence investigations, or was it a broader statement? I’m trying to understand if there was any king of investigation of the president underway.
COMEY: No, and if I misunderstood I apologize. We briefed the congressional leadership about what Americans we had opened counterintelligence investigation cases on. And we specifically said that the President was not one of those Americans. But there was no other investigation of the President that we were not mentioning at the time. The context was counterintelligence, but no, I was not trying to hide some criminal investigation.
COLLINS: Was the President under investigation at the time of your dismissal on May 9th?
COLLINS: I’d like to now turn to the conversations with the President about Michael Flynn, which have been discussed at great length. And first, let me make very clear that the president never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you as you reported, to let the investigation go. But I remain puzzled by your response. Your response was, “I agree that Michael Flynn is a good guy.” You could have said, “Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate. This response could compromise the investigation. You should not be making such a request. It’s fundamental to the operation of our government that the F.B.I. be insulated from this kind of political pressure.”
You’ve talked a bit today about how you were stunned by the President making the request. But my question to you is, later on, upon reflection, did you go to anyone at the Department of Justice and ask them to call the White House Counsel’s office and explain that the president had to have a far better understanding and appreciation of his role vis a vis the F.B.I.
COMEY: In general, I did. I spoke to the Attorney General, and I spoke to the new Deputy Attorney General, Mr. Rosenstein, when he took office and explained my serious concern about the way in which the President is interacting especially with the F.B.I. And I specifically, as I said in my testimony, I told the Attorney General, “It can’t happen that you get kicked out of the room and the President talks to me.” But why didn’t we raise the specific? It was of investigative interest to us to try and figure out what just happened with the president’s request, so I did not want to alert the White House about what just happened until we figured out what are we going to do with this investigatively.
COLLINS: Your testimony was that you went to Attorney General Sessions and said “don’t ever leave me alone with him again.” Are you saying that you also told him that he had made a request that you let it go with regard to part of the investigation of Michael Flynn?
COMEY: No, I specifically did not. I did not.
COLLINS: You mentioned that from your very first meeting with the president you decided to write a memo memorializing the conversation. What was it about that very first meeting that made you write a memo when you had not done that with two previous presidents?
COMEY: As I said, a combination of things: a gut feeling as an important overlay, but the circumstances (that I was alone), the subject matter, and the nature of the person that I was interacting with and my read of that person. And really just a gut feel laying on top of all of that that this is going to be important to protect this organization that I make records of this.
COLLINS: Finally, did you show copies of your memos to anyone outside the Department of Justice?
COLLINS: And to whom did you show copies?
COMEY: The President tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there’s not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, there might be a tape. And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square, so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with the reporter. I didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. So I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
COLLINS: And was that Mr. Wittes?
COLLINS: Who was that?
COMEY: A good friend of mine who is a professor at Columbia Law School.