Former FBI Director James Comey accused the Trump administration of spreading lies during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, claiming that after he was fired by President Trump, “the shifting explanation confused me and increasingly concerned me.”
“He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current attorney general, and I was doing a great job,” Comey said of Trump, adding that the administration “chose to defame me, and more importantly, the FBI…those were lies, plain and simple.”
Here are a few highlights from today’s testimony:
• Comey flatly said he thought he was fired by President Trump due to the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling into the election. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted,” Comey said.
• President Trump’s tweet about “tapes” caused Comey to leak memos he had written about his interactions with the president to the media. “My judgment was that I needed to get that out into the public square,” Comey said, adding that he took the step “because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
• Comey testified that he knew of “a variety of reasons” why Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in an investigation into Russian meddling during the election would have been “problematic” if he hadn’t recused himself, but said he couldn’t discuss them “in an open setting.”
• Comey also used his testimony to explain why he took notes following meetings with President Trump, but not after meetings with President Obama. “I was honestly concerned he would lie about the nature of our meetings,” Comey said of Trump. “I knew that there might come a day where I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but the FBI.”
Here is the latest:
1:20 p.m. – Trump says he’s “under seige”
During a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference, which the president delivered during Comey’s testimony, Trump said he and his supporters “are under siege” but “will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever.”
Trump, who hasn’t tweeted in over 24 hours, didn’t mention Comey by name, but did tell listeners “as you know, we’re under siege” as the former FBI director was in the middle of his testimony.
“We know how to fight and we will never give up,” Trump said, adding that Democrats “are bad right now for the country. They have gone so far left that I don’t know if they can ever come back.”
12:47 p.m. – Comey says New York Times story “was not true”
During an exchange with Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho), Comey said a February New York Times story about alleged contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials was incorrect.
“In the main, it was not true,” Comey said.
“The challenge, and I’m not picking on reporters, about writing stories about classified information is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on and those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it,” Comey explained. “And we don’t call the press and say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong.'”
The story, written by reporters Michael Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, drew upon phone records and intercepted calls in an attempt to show members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials.
The New York Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
12:44 p.m. – Key lines from Comey’s hearing
My colleague Aubrey Whelan has been busy collecting the key lines from Comey’s widely-seen testimony today to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Here are a few gems:
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” — Comey on why he started keeping memos of his meetings with President Trump
“A very disturbing thing, very concerning.” — Comey on Trump requesting he back off the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn
12:21 p.m. – Russian meddling is “unfake” news
Responding to a question by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D., NM.), Comey strongly debunked the claims of President Trump and conservative media outlets that Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign is “fake news.”
“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle,” Comey testified, noting that Moscow meddled during the presidential campaign with purpose, sophistication and overwhelming technical effort.
“It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as unfake as you can possibly get and is very, very serious, which is why it’s so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that because this is about America, not about any particular party,” Comey added.
12:11 p.m. – Did Trump collude with Russia?
Does Comey believe President Trump colluded with Russia? The former FBI director refused to directly answer Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R, Ark.) question.
“It’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting,” Comey said, adding, “When I left we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump.”
Q: Do you believe that Trump colluded with Russia?
Comey: “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting.” pic.twitter.com/Ee2giR2Klb
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 8, 2017
12:08 p.m. – Can you change it from SportsCenter?
A dozen patrons gazed sporadically at the three televisions playing the hearing at Milkboy, but Joe and Sarah Maiellano were the only ones intently watching the screen. The couple had the day off after just returning from vacation, and came to the bar and restaurant at 11th and Chestnut streets around 9:30 a.m. after they found their TV and internet weren’t working.
They asked the bar to change the channel from SportsCenter.
The Philadelphia natives, who returned to the city two years ago after living in D.C. for 10 years, expressed sympathy for Comey. They said they see him as a dedicated public servant. Sarah Maiellano called him “a victim of this administration.”
Her husband, a fundraiser, said he has worked on the campaigns for 24 Republican congressman, but voted for Gary Johnson in the general presidential election.
“[Trump] doesn’t represent the Republican party I worked for,” Joe said. Sarah said she changed her registration to vote against him in the Republican primary.
“I hope it makes the president realize that he has to be more cautious and thoughtful with his decision-making,” Sarah said. “That the country isn’t his private business.”
– Genevieve Glatsky
12:05 p.m. – The view from Passyunk Ave.
11:48 a.m. – Vindication for Trump?
Supporters of the president are pointing to an exchange between Comey and Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) that they say vindicates Trump.
When asked by Risch if he could say that the president was not under investigation while he was still FBI director, Comey responded, “That’s correct.”
The exchange echoed comments Comey made in his prepared testimony released ahead of the hearing, where he says he assured Trump that he was not personally being investigated by the FBI.
“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,” Comey wrote.
Following up on exchange with Risch, Sen. Angus King (I., Maine) offered his own thoughts on Comey’s comment.
King just made an important point: Just because Trump wasn't under investigation THEN, doesn't mean he isn't NOW.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) June 8, 2017
11:34 a.m. – Comey on Sessions
Comey testified that he knew of “a variety of reasons” why Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in an investigation into Russian meddling during the election would have been “problematic” if he hadn’t recused himself.
But Comey refused to detail the reasons to the committee, noting “I can’t discuss in an open setting.”
Comey: "aware of facts [he] can't discuss in an open setting" that would make AG Sessions' engagement in Russia investigation "problematic." pic.twitter.com/LaHx9lztQS
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) June 8, 2017
11:26 a.m. – People in and around Philly glued to Comey’s testimony
11:12 a.m. – “I could be wrong.”
Interesting observation from Inquirer television critic Ellen Gray:
Comey's repeated disclaimer, "I could be wrong," carries particular power in a town where it's seldom heard. #ComeyDay
— Ellen Gray (@elgray) June 8, 2017
11:06 a.m. – Comey thinks he was fired over Russia probe
Comey testified that he believes he was fired by President Trump because of the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I guess I don’t know for sure,” Comey testified. “I take the president at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.”
Comey told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that he came to that conclusion after watching Trump’s interview with NBC News, in which he told Lester Holt the former FBI director was a “showboat” and said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
11:00 a.m. – “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
Back in May, President Trump warned Comey about leaking any negative comments about their conversations, saying he “better hope” there were no secret recordings of their interactions.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
“I’ve seen the tweet about ‘tapes.’ Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey testified.
10:55 a.m. – Trump Jr. tweets
It’s been over 24 hours since President Trump has made a statement on Twitter. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., is speaking out in defense of his father during Comey’s testimony.
1/3 Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well. I hear "I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job"
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
2/3 very far from any kind of coercion or influence and certainly not obstruction!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
3/3 Knowing my father for 39 years when he "orders or tells" you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
10:50 a.m. – Watching Comey in Philly
At McGillin’s Olde Ale House, four televisions played the Comey hearing to a sparse crowd. The Center City bar typically draws a diverse audience for major TV events, attracting construction workers and politicians, said owner and manager Christopher Mullins. But by 10:30 a.m. Thursday not a single chair or barstool was filled.
“I don’t think people are taking it lightly. It’s a serious event,” Mullins said. “People come to bars to celebrate. Nobody’s taking the day off to watch this soap opera – unless you’re in Washington.”
– Genevieve Glatsky
10:38 a.m. – Comey explains why he took notes with Trump
Before going into his testimony today, many questioned why Comey felt the need to take notes of his meetings with President Trump, but not of his two meetings with President Obama.
Comey told Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) there were three reasons why he decided to take detailed notes of his meetings with Trump – the circumstances of the meetings, the subject matter discussed, and the person he was interacting with.
“I was honestly concerned he would lie about the nature of our meetings,” Comey said of Trump.
“I knew that there might come a day where I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but the FBI,” Comey added.
10:22 a.m. – Comey “confused” by firing
Comey came out strong to start his testimony, claiming that after he was fired by President Trump, “the shifting explanation confused me and increasing concerned me.”
“He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current attorney general, and was doing a great job,” Comey said of Trump, adding that the administration “chose to defame me, and more importantly, the FBI…those were lies, plain and simple”
“The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. The FBI is and always will be independent,” Comey said.
10:15 a.m. – What everyone is thinking
As Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) offers a lengthy introduction to Comey, Time magazine Washington corespondent Zeke Miller says what everyone is thinking.
Just. Get. To. The. Questions.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 8, 2017
9:59 a.m. – The scene in the room
Here’s a look at the hearing room where Comey will testify. Notice all the space that is devoted to reporters.
Another view of the room:
The media awaiting Comey's arrival pic.twitter.com/nFmd0WWVIP
— Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) June 8, 2017
9:52 a.m. – Questions for Comey
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) shared a notebook with the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe featuring 20 questions he hopes to ask Comey during the 5 minutes he’s expected to have to question the former FBI director. Expect to hear the first question asked multiple times by many senators.
— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) June 8, 2017
9:41 a.m. – Free shots if Trump tweets
There’s a line around the block to get into the Union Pub in Washington this morning, and for good reason. The bar announced that every time the president tweets during Comey’s testimony, the bar will buy everyone inside a drink, until 4 p.m. or the end of the testimony, whichever comes first.
— Anna Isaacs (@annaisaacs) June 8, 2017
Not surprisingly, a gaggle of reporters are at the bar talking with patrons.
And here's the reporters talking to the early-morning patrons. pic.twitter.com/bShoATMBZI
— Laura Olson (@lauraolson) June 8, 2017
9:27 a.m. – “Breaking” news
The Inquirer’s Washington correspondent Jonathan Tamari makes a good point about CNN’s liberal use of the term “breaking news.”
I'm gonna argue that when you've had a countdown leading up to an event all week, you can't call it breaking news when that event arrived pic.twitter.com/zA1P9LNfJo
— Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) June 8, 2017
9:17 a.m. – C-SPAN is watching
C-SPAN is taking the term “complete coverage” to a new level. They have an appropriately-titled “stakeout feed” set up outside of Comey’s home, where they were able to capture the former FBI director leaving to attend the hearing.
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 8, 2017
9:00 a.m. – Fired U.S. Attorney gets reserved seat
It looks like Preet Bharara was able to nab one of the hottest seats in Washington.
Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for lower Manhattan, has been a vocal critic of the president after Trump fired him in a controversial move earlier this year.
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) June 8, 2017
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) June 8, 2017
8:47 a.m. – Line for seats snakes around the building
Don’t think Comey’s testimony is highly-anticipated? Check out the long line of hopefuls willing to line up as early as 4:15 a.m. to nab a seat inside the committee’s chambers.
A better representation of the line for public seats. First person got here at 4:15am pic.twitter.com/BXITum4Z5Y
— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) June 8, 2017
Here’s another look at the long line from New York Times photojournalist Al Drago. Keep in mind there are just 88 public seats.
Here's the line to get into the James Comey FBI hearing this morning. pic.twitter.com/RTf9xAYAmC
— Al Drago (@Al_Drago) June 8, 2017
President Trump will reportedly be watching the testimony live alongside his legal team, including outside counsel Marc Kasowitz and some of his closest advisers from a dining room inside the executive mansion, according to NBC News.
— NBC News PR (@NBCNewsPR) June 8, 2017
The Washington Post reported that Trump could directly respond to Comey’s testimony in real-time on Twitter if he feels the need to respond. Trump will be at the White House until 12 p.m., when he is scheduled to depart to speak at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority Conference” in Washington.
ABC’s coverage of the testimony will be anchored by George Stephanopoulos, while CBS’s will turn to This Morning co-hosts Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell. FOX will have Fox News host Shepard Smith, while NBC will feature NBC Nightly News host Lester Holt, Today show co-host Samantha Guthrie and Meet the Press host Chuck Todd.
Over on cable, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper will anchor CNN’s coverage, while Fox News will turn to America’s Newsroom host Bill Hemmer and America’s News Headquarters host Shannon Bream. Brian Williams will anchor MSNBC’s coverage alongside NBC News’ Nicolle Wallace, a role normally filled by Rachel Maddow, who is coming off an illness that kept her off the network for nearly two weeks.
“The best sign of a blockbuster hearing is a decision by all the commercial networks to cover it,” Larry Sabato, the director of the center for politics at the University of Virginia, told CNN. “Cable always does that but it’s now rare for ABC, CBS, NBC to join in. There has to be real, substantial buzz and the potential for an enormous audience. That’s what we’ve got with Comey.”
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