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Former FBI Director James Comey Testifies in Senate Hearing. Aired 10:3-11a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BURR: And in that timeframe, there were more than the DNC and the DCCC that were targets.
COMEY: Correct. There was a massive effort to target government and nongovernmental -- near-governmental agencies like nonprofits.
BURR: What would be the estimate of how many entities out there the Russians specifically targeted in that timeframe?
COMEY: It's hundreds. I suppose it could be more than 1,000, but it's at least hundreds.
BURR: When did you become aware that data had been exfiltrated?
COMEY: I'm not sure, exactly. I think either late '15 or early '16.
BURR: And did -- did you, the director of the FBI, have conversations with the last administration about the risk that this posed?
BURR: And share with us, if you will, what actions they took.
COMEY: Well, the FBI had already undertaken an effort to notify all the victims -- and that's what we consider the entities that were attacked as part of this massive spear phishing campaign. And so we notified them in an effort to disrupt what might be ongoing.
Then there was a series of continuing interactions with entities through the rest of '15 into '16, and then, throughout '16, the administration was trying to decide how to respond to the intrusion activity that it saw.
BURR: And the FBI, in this case, unlike other cases that you might investigate -- did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked? Or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data that they had collected?
COMEY: In the case of the DNC, and, I believe, the DCCC, but I'm sure the DNC, we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work. But we didn't get direct access.
BURR: But no content?
BURR: Isn't content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?
COMEY: It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks -- the people who were my folks at the time is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.
BURR: Let me go back, if I can, very briefly, to the decision to publicly go out with your results on the e-mail.
Was your decision influenced by the attorney general's tarmac meeting with the former president, Bill Clinton?
COMEY: Yes. In -- in an ultimately conclusive way, that was the thing that capped it for me, that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation, which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department.
BURR: Were there other things that contributed to that that you can describe in an open session?
COMEY: There were other things that contributed to that. One significant item I can't, I know the committee's been briefed on. There's been some public accounts of it, which are nonsense, but I understand the committee's been briefed on the classified facts.
Probably the only other consideration that I guess I can talk about in an open setting is, at one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me.
But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, I have to step away from the department if we're to close this case credibly.
BURR: Director, my last question: You're not only a seasoned prosecutor, you've led the FBI for years. You understand the investigative process. You've worked with this committee closely, and we're grateful to you because I think we've -- we've mutually built trust in what your organization does and -- and what we do.
Is there any doubt in your mind that this committee can carry out its oversight role in the 2016 Russian involvement in the elections in parallel with the -- now -- special counsel that's been set up?
COMEY: No -- no doubt. It can be done. It requires lots of conversations, but Bob Mueller is one of this country's great, great pros. And I'm sure you all will be able to work it out with him to run it in parallel.
BURR: I want to thank you once again, and I want to turn to the vice chairman. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, again, Director Comey, thank you for your service.
And your comments to your FBI family, I know, were heartfelt. Know that, even though there are some in the administration who've tried to smear your reputation, you had Acting Director McCabe, in public testimony a few weeks back and in public testimony yesterday, reaffirm that the vast majority of the (ph) FBI community had great trust in your leadership and, obviously, trust in your integrity.
I want to go through a number of the meetings that you referenced in your testimony. And let's start with the January 6th meeting in Trump Tower, where you went up with a series of officials to brief the president-elect on the Russia investigation. My understanding is you remained afterwards to brief him on, again, quote, "some personally sensitive aspects" of the information you relayed.
Now, you said, after that briefing, you felt compelled to document that conversation, that you actually started documenting it soon as you got into the car.
Now, you've had extensive experience at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. You've worked under presidents of both parties. What was it about that meeting that led you to determine that you needed to start putting down a written record?
COMEY: A combination of things, I think -- the circumstances, the subject matter and the person I was interacting with. Circumstances first: I was alone with the president of the United States -- or the president-elect, soon to be president.
The subject matter: I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI's core responsibility and that relate to the president -- president-elect personally.
And then the nature of the person: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
That combination of things, I'd never experienced before, but it led me to believe I've got to write it down, and I've got to write it down in a very detailed way.
WARNER: I think that's a very important statement you just made. And my understanding is that then, again, unlike your dealings with presidents of either parties in your past experience, in every subsequent meeting or conversation with this president, you created a written record.
Did you feel that you needed to create this written record or (ph) these memos because they might need to be relied on at some future date?
COMEY: Sure. I created records after conversations, and I think I did it after each of our nine conversations. If I didn't, I did it for nearly all of them, especially the ones that were substantive. I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what
had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and -- and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function. That's what made this so -- so difficult, is it was a combination of circumstances, subject matter, and the particular person.
WARNER: And so, in all your experience, this was the only president that you felt like, in every meeting, you needed to document, because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting?
COMEY: That's right, Senator.
And I -- I -- as I said in my written testimony, as FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years, and didn't document it. When I was deputy attorney general, I had one one-on-one meeting with President Bush about a very important and difficult national security matter.
I didn't write a memo documenting that conversation either -- sent a quick e-mail to my staff to let them know there was something going on, but I didn't feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way, again (ph), because of -- the combination of those factors just wasn't present with either President Bush or President Obama.
WARNER: I -- I think that is very significant. I think others will probably question that.
Now, our chairman and I have requested those memos. It is our hope that the FBI will get this committee access to those memos so that, again, we can read that contemporaneous rendition, so that we've got your side of the story.
Now, I know members have said, and press has said, that if you were -- a great deal's been made of whether the president -- you were asked to, in effect, indicate whether the president was the subject of any investigation.
And my understanding is, prior to your meeting on January 6th, you discussed with your leadership team whether or not you should be prepared to assure then President-Elect Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally.
Now, my understanding is your leadership team agreed with that. But was that a unanimous decision? Was there any debate about that?
COMEY: Was it unanimous? One of the members of the leadership team had a view that, although it was technically true, we did not have a counterintelligence file case open on then-President-elect Trump.
His concern was, because we're looking at the potential -- again, that's the subject of the investigation -- coordination between the campaign and Russia, because it was President Trump -- President-elect Trump's campaign, this person's view was, inevitably, his behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work.
And so he was reluctant to make the statement that I made. I disagreed. I thought it was fair to say what was literally true: There is not a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump. And I decided, in the moment, to say it, given the nature of our conversation.
WARNER: At that moment in time, did you ever revisit that as a -- in -- in these subsequent sessions?
COMEY: With the FBI leadership team?
WARNER: With the team -- with your (ph) team.
COMEY: Sure, and -- and the -- the leader who had that view -- it didn't change. His view was still that it was probably -- although literally true, his concern was it could be misleading, because the nature of the investigation was such that it might well touch -- obviously, it would touch the campaign, and the person at the head of the campaign would be the candidate. And so that was his view throughout.
WARNER: Let me move to the January 27th dinner, where you said, quote, "The president began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director. He also indicated that lots of people" -- again, your words -- "wanted the job."
You go on to say that the dinner itself was seemingly an effort to, quote, "have you ask him for your job," and create some sort of, quote-unquote, "patronage relationship."
The president's (ph) -- seems, from my reading of your memo, to be holding your job, or your possibility of continuing in your job, over your head in a fairly direct way. What was your impression, and what did you mean by this notion of a patronage relationship? COMEY: Well, my impression -- and, again, it's my impression. I could always be wrong. But my common sense told me that what was going on is either he had concluded, or someone had told him, that you didn't -- you've already asked Comey to stay, and you didn't get anything for it, and that the dinner was an effort to build a relationship -- in fact, he asked specifically -- of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
And, as I said, what was odd about that is we'd already talked twice about it by that point. And he'd said, I very much hope you'll stay, I hope you'll stay.
In fact, I just remembered, sitting here, a third one. When -- you've seen the picture of me walking across the Blue Room. And what the president whispered in my ear was, "I really look forward to working with you." So, after those encounters...
WARNER: And that was just a few days before you were fired.
COMEY: ... yeah, that was on the 20 -- the Sunday after the inauguration.
The next Friday, I have dinner, and the president begins by wanting to talk about my job. And so I'm sitting there, thinking, wait a minute, three times, we've already -- you've already asked me to stay, or talked about me staying.
COMEY: And my common sense -- again, I could be wrong, but my common sense told me what's going on here is that he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.
WARNER: And again, we all understand -- I was a governor, I had people work for me. But this constant request -- and, again, quoting you, him saying that he -- despite you explaining your independence, he kept coming back to "I need loyalty." "I expect loyalty."
Had you ever had any of those kind of requests before, from anyone else you'd worked for in the government?
COMEY: No, and what made me uneasy was I'm, at that point, the director of the FBI. The reason that Congress created a ten-year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they're serving at -- with political loyalty owed to any particular person.
The -- the statue of Justice has a blindfold on because you're not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you're doing.
It should be about the facts and the law. That's why I was -- that's why I became FBI director: to be in that kind of position. So that's why I was so uneasy.
WARNER: Well, let me -- let me move on. My time's running out. February 14th -- again, it seems a bit strange. You were in a meeting. And your direct superior, the attorney general, was in that meeting, as well.
Yet the president asked everyone to leave, including the attorney general -- to leave, before he brought up the matter of General Flynn. What was your impression of that type of action? Had you ever seen anything like that before?
COMEY: No. My impression was, something big is about to happen. I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And, again, I could be wrong, but I'm 56 years old. I've been -- seen a few things.
My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering. And I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.
WARNER: And I -- I found it very interesting that, in the memo that you wrote after this February 14th pull-aside, you made clear that you wrote that memo in a way that was unclassified.
If you affirmatively made the decision to write a memo that was unclassified, was that because you felt, at some point, the facts of that meeting would have to come clean and come clear and actually be able to be cleared in a way that could be shared with the American people?
COMEY: Well, I remember thinking, this is a very disturbing development, really important to our work. I need to document it and preserve it in a way -- and -- and this committee gets this, but sometimes when things are classified, it tangles them up. It's hard...
COMEY: ... to share it within an investigative team. It's -- you have to be very careful about how you handle it, for good reason.
So my thinking was, if I write it in such a way that I don't include anything that would trigger a classification, that'll make it easier for us to discuss, within the FBI and the government, and to -- to hold on to it in a way that makes it accessible to us.
WARNER: Well, again, it's our hope, particularly since you're a pretty knowledgeable guy and you wrote this in a way that was unclassified, that this committee will get access to that unclassified document. I think it'll be very important to our investigation.
Let me just ask this in closing: How many ongoing investigations, at any time, does the FBI have going on?
COMEY: Tens of thousands.
WARNER: Tens of thousands. Did the president ever ask about any other ongoing investigation?
WARNER: Did he ever ask about you trying to interfere on any other investigation?
WARNER: I think, again, this speaks volumes. This doesn't even get to the questions around the -- the phone calls about lifting the cloud. I know other members will get to that, but I really appreciate your testimony and appreciate your service to our nation.
COMEY: Thank you, Senator Warner.
You know, I just -- I'm sitting here, going through my contacts with him. I had one conversation with the president that was classified, where he asked about our -- an ongoing intelligence investigation. It was brief and entirely professional.
WARNER: But he didn't ask you to take any specific action on that...
COMEY: No, no.
WARNER: ... unlike what he had done vis-a-vis Mr. Flynn and the overall Russia investigation?
WARNER: Thank you, sir.
BURR: Senator Risch?
RISCH: Thank you very much.
Mr. Comey, thank you for your service. America needs more like you, and we really appreciate it.
RISCH: Yesterday, I got, and everybody got, the seven pages of your direct testimony that's now a part of the record, here. And the first -- I read it, then I read it again, and all I could think was, number one, how much I hated the class of legal writing when I was in law school.
And you were the guy that probably got the A, after -- after reading this. So I -- I find it clear, I find it concise and, having been a prosecutor for a number of years and handling hundred -- maybe thousands of cases and read police reports, investigative reports, this is as good as it gets.
And -- and I really appreciate that -- not only -- not only the conciseness and the clearness of it, but also the fact that you have things that were written down contemporaneously when they happened, and you actually put them in quotes, so we know exactly what happened and we're -- and we're not getting some rendition of it that -- that's in your mind. So...
COMEY: Thank you, Senator.
RISCH: ... so you're -- you're to be complimented for that.
COMEY: I had great parents and great teachers who beat that into me.
RISCH: That's obvious, sir.
The -- the chairman walked you through a number of things that -- that the American people need to know and want to know. Number one, obviously we're -- all know about the active measures that the Russians have taken.
I think a lot of people were surprised at this. Those of us that work in the intelligence community didn't -- it didn't come as a surprise. But now, the American people know this, and it's good they know this, because this is serious and it's a problem.
I -- I think, secondly, I gather from all this that you're willing to say now that, while you were director, the president of the United States was not under investigation. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: That's correct. RISCH: All right. So that's a fact that we can rely at this...
COMEY: Yes, sir.
RISCH: ... OK.
On -- I remember, you -- you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?
COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance...
COMEY: ... communications. Yes, sir.
RISCH: And -- and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether -- whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?
COMEY: That's correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But...
RISCH: I -- I'm -- I'm not going to any further than that with it.
RISCH: So thank you.
In addition to that, after that, you sought out both Republican and Democrat senators to tell them that, hey, I don't know where this is coming from, but this is not the -- this is not factual. Do you recall that?
RISCH: OK. So -- so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: In -- in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don't. The challenge -- and I'm not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that 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. And we don't call the press to say, hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic. We just have to leave it there.
I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can't go explaining how it's nonsense. RISCH: Thank you.
All right. So -- so those three things, we now know, regarding the active measures, whether (ph) the president's under investigation and the collusion between the -- the Russian -- the Trump campaign and the Russians.
I -- I want to drill right down, as my time is limited, to the most recent dust-up regarding allegations that the president of the United States obstructed justice. And, boy, you nailed this down on page 5, paragraph 3. You put this in quotes -- words matter.
You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There's 28 words there that are in quotes, and it says, quote, "I hope" -- this is the president speaking -- "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."
Now those are his exact words, is that correct?
RISCH: And you wrote them here, and you put them in quotes?
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go.
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go.
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: He said, "I hope." Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases charging people with criminal offenses. And, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there that -- where people have been charged.
Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where this -- they said, or thought, they hoped for an outcome?
COMEY: I don't know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, "I hope" this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.
COMEY: Now I -- I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it. RISCH: You -- you may have taken it as a direction, but that's not what he said.
COMEY: Correct. I -- that's why...
RISCH: He said -- he said, "I hope."
COMEY: Those are exact words, correct.
RISCH: OK, do you (ph) -- you don't know of anyone that's ever been charged for hoping something. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: I don't, as I sit here.
RISCH: Yeah. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURR: Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Comey, I just want you to know that I have great respect for you. Senator Cornyn and I sit on the Judiciary Committee, so we have occasion to have you before us. And I know that you're a man of strength and integrity, and I really regret the situation that we all find ourselves in. I just want to say that.
Let me begin with one overarching question. Why do you believe you were fired?
COMEY: Guess I don't know for sure. I believe the -- I take the president at his word, that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt, created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.
Again, I didn't know that at the time, but I watched his interview, I've read the press accounts of his conversations. So I take him at his word there.
Now, look, I -- I could be wrong. Maybe he's saying something that's not true. But I take him at his word, at least based on what I know now.
FEINSTEIN: Talk for a moment about his request that you pledge loyalty, and your response to that and what impact you believe that had.
COMEY: I -- I don't know for sure, because I don't know the president well enough to read him well. I think it was -- because our relationship didn't get off to a great start, given the conversation I had to have on January 6th, this was not -- this didn't improve the relationship, because it was very, very awkward.
He was asking for something, and I was refusing to give it. But again, I don't know him well enough to know how he reacted to that, exactly.
FEINSTEIN: Do you believe the Russia investigation played a role?
COMEY: In why I was fired?
FEINSTEIN: Yes. COMEY: Yes, because I've seen the president say so.
FEINSTEIN: OK. Let's -- let's go to the Flynn issue.
Senator Risch outlined a -- "I hope you could see your way (sic) to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
But you also said, in your written remarks, and I quote, that you 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," end quote.
FEINSTEIN: Please go into that with more detail.
COMEY: Well, the -- the context and the president's words are what led me to that conclusion.
As I said in my statement, I could be wrong, but Flynn had been forced to resign the day before, and -- and the controversy around General Flynn at that point in time was centered on whether he had lied to the vice president about the nature of his conversations with the Russians, whether he had been candid with others in the course of that.
And so that happens on the day before. On the 14th, the president makes specific reference to that. And so that's why I understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn's account of his conversations with the Russians.
FEINSTEIN: Now, here's the question: You're big. You're strong. I know the Oval Office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn't you stop and say, "Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you"?
COMEY: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just...
COMEY: ... took it in. And the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind, because I could (ph) remember every word he said -- I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that's why I very carefully chose the words.
And, look, I -- I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I -- I remember saying, "I agree he's a good guy," as a way of saying, "I'm not agreeing with what you just asked me to do."
Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that -- that was -- that's how I conducted myself. I -- I hope I'll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better.
FEINSTEIN: You described two phone calls that you received from President Trump, one on March 30 and one on April 11, where he, quote, "described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability," end quote, as president, and asked you, quote, "to lift the cloud," end quote.
What -- how did you interpret that? And what did you believe he wanted you to do?
COMEY: I interpreted that as he was frustrated that the Russia investigation was taking up so much time and energy, I -- I think he meant, of the executive branch, but in the -- in the public square in general, and it was making it difficult for him to focus on other priorities of his. But what he asked me was actually narrower than that.
COMEY: So I think what he meant by the cloud, and again, I could be wrong, but what I think he meant by the cloud was the entire investigation is -- is taking up oxygen and making it hard for me to focus on the things I want to focus on.
The ask was to get it out that I, the president, am not personally under investigation.
FEINSTEIN: After April 11th, did he ask you more, ever, about the Russia investigation? Did he ask you any questions?
COMEY: We never spoke again after April 11th.
FEINSTEIN: You told the president, I -- I would see what we could do. What did you mean?
COMEY: Well, it (ph) was kind of a slightly cowardly way of trying to avoid telling him, we're not going to do that -- that I would see what we could do. It was a way of kind of getting off the phone, frankly. And then I turned and handed it to the acting deputy attorney general, Mr. Boente.
FEINSTEIN: So I wanted to go into that. Who did you talk with about that -- lifting the cloud, stopping the investigation -- back at the FBI, and what was their response?
COMEY: Well, the FBI, during one of the two conversations -- I'm not remembering exactly. I think the first -- my chief of staff was actually sitting in front of me, and heard my end of the conversation, because the president's call was a surprise.
And I discussed the lifting the cloud and the request with the senior leadership team, who in -- in -- typically, and I think in all these circumstances, was the deputy director, my chief of staff, the general counsel, the deputy director's chief counsel and, I think, in a number of circumstances, the number three in the FBI, and a few of the conversations included the head of the national security branch, so that group of us that lead the FBI when it comes to national security. FEINSTEIN: OK. You have the president of the United States asking you to stop an investigation that's an important investigation. What was the response of your colleagues?
COMEY: I think they were as shocked and troubled by it as I was. Some said things that led me to believe that. I don't remember exactly, but the reaction was similar to mine. They're all experienced people who had never experienced such a thing. So they were very concerned.
And then the conversation turned to about, so what should we do with this information? And that was a struggle for us, because we are the leaders of the FBI.