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Five key things said during James Comey’s testimony

Former FBI director James B. Comey spent nearly two and a half hours answering questions from senators Thursday about his interactions with President Trump, why he was fired last month and his efforts to spur the appointment of a special counsel.

Here are five highlights:

1. Comey said he was fired because of the Russia probe

When asked why Trump suddenly fired him last month, Comey said that he has one idea.

“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

During an earlier round of questioning, Comey acknowledged that he did not know for sure but pointed out that he was taking Trump “at his word.”

After Comey was fired, Trump’s White House claimed the dismissal was due to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, based on the recommendation of top Justice Department officials and needed because the FBI was in disarray. But in an interview with NBC News that week, Trump threw those reasons aside, saying he had the Russia probe in his mind when firing Comey.

2. Comey took notes because he thought Trump might lie

Comey had served for more than three years as FBI director under President Barack Obama. During that time, he and Obama privately talked twice, but Comey never took notes on those interactions.

However, during his brief time leading the FBI during the Trump administration, Comey said he had nine interactions with Trump and began taking detailed notes after their first meeting in January.

Comey said his reason was simple: He was worried Trump would lie about their meetings.

“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said.

After Comey’s public testimony before Congress, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders rebutted that charge.

“No, I can definitely say the president is not a liar,” Sanders said. “I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”

In this combination photo, President Donald Trump, left, appears in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on May 10, 2017, and FBI Director James Comey appears at a news conference in Washington on June 30, 2014. Comey is making his first public comments since being fired by President Donald Trump and, according to his prepared remarks, will talk about the president's efforts put the investigation behind him. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, left, and Susan Walsh, File)
President Trump and James B. Comey. (Evan Vucci, left, and Susan Walsh, right/AP)

3. Comey says he was ‘defamed’  by Trump and White House

At the opening of the hearing, Comey immediately pushed back against statements by the White House and President Trump suggesting that the he was fired because of poor morale or turmoil at the FBI.

Comey said he was “increasingly concerned” about the shifting explanations the White House offered for his firing, but in particular he lashed out at suggestions of the FBI being in a state of chaos.

“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.’”

During his NBC News interview not long after firing Comey, Trump said that “the FBI has been in turmoil.”

“You know that. I know that,” Trump said. “Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

White House officials echoed that statement, with Sanders, the deputy press secretary, claiming after Comey’s firing that the rank and file FBI had lost faith in him. Her comment contradicted Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, who earlier that day said Comey had “broad support” inside the bureau. Sanders said “countless members of the FBI” had contacted her to express their support, a claim greeted with skepticism and one that remains unsubstantiated.

Comey said he was sorry for what the American people were told about the FBI. He also spoke with admiration of the bureau’s workforce, saying that its efforts would continue.

4. Comey says he helped leak accounts of his talks with Trump to get a special counsel appointed

After Comey was fired, news articles began to appear with details of his discussions with Trump, and in some cases the stories cited notes the former FBI director kept of those interactions.

On Thursday, Comey admitted he helped arrange at least one of these reports, alluding to a New York Times story published on May 16 discussing Comey’s recollection that Trump asked him to abandon the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Comey said, in response to questioning, that he was prompted to leak the memo after Trump tweeted on May 12 a suggestion that recordings may exist of their meetings. According to Comey, he “woke up in the middle of the night” because of the tweet and then asked a friend of his — Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor and Columbia Law School professor who declined to comment Thursday — to share the details of the memo with a reporter.

“As a private citizen, I felt free to share that,” Comey said. “I thought it was very important to get it out.”

In an extraordinary admission, Comey said his decision to release the memo was aimed at getting a special prosecutor appointed. He opted to share it that way, Comey said, rather than give it to a reporter himself because “the media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point.”

“I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide,” he said. “I was worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.”

The remarks may have had their intended effect in the appointment of a special counsel. Comey said he has since provided his memos to Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director appointed as special counsel not long after Comey was fired.

5. Comey said the FBI knew Jeff Sessions would recuse himself — but won’t say why

In a cryptic note, Comey mentioned in his prepared statement and his testimony Thursday that the FBI expected Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia-related investigation. This turned out to be correct, as Sessions would later do just that, but Comey would not specifically say why he thought the attorney general would recuse himself.

The now-fired FBI director wrote that he decided not to tell Sessions about Trump’s request that he hoped he would let go of the Flynn investigation, because he and the bureau leadership felt “it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.”

When asked about this Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Comey suggested that there were reasons Sessions could not remain involved in the probe but that those reasons involved classified information.

Comey said that the FBI felt Sessions would recuse himself “for a variety of reasons.” He also said the bureau was “aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.” Comey did not elaborate further on these “facts.”

James Comey testimony: Updates and reaction

Former FBI director James B. Comey is set to testify today in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.; a closed hearing is to start at 1 p.m.

Comey’s testimony was previewed on Wednesday in written remarks in which he describes President Trump’s demand of loyalty and the investigations.

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