James Comey erased any doubt this week that President Trump asked him to halt a key part of his investigation into the Russian collusion scandal and insisted on his complete “loyalty.”
In testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Comey produced a detailed recitation of what Trump told him in their meetings over the course of the past several months — supporting allegations that had been leaked to the news media and that the president has denounced as “fake news.”
In a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting, Trump wanted to talk about the investigation into Michael Flynn, who had resigned the previous day after he lied to Vice President Pence, saying he hadn’t talked to Russian officials during the campaign.
After asking others at the meeting to leave, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Comey’s boss, “The president began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians,” the FBI chief said in written testimony.
“He is a good guy and has been through a lot,” Trump said. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go ... I hope you can let this go.”
“I 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,” Comey said.
At meeting Jan. 27, the president raised the issue of Comey’s job, asking “whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director, which I found strange.”
Comey concluded “the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status.”
Comey told Trump, “I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my 10-year term as director.
“And then, because the setup made me uneasy, I added that I was not ‘reliable’ in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth.”
Then a few moments later, Trump said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
Comey gave Trump a tutorial of sorts about the independence of the Department of Justice and especially the FBI, and the dangers of “undermining public trust in the institutions” of government “and their work.”
But Trump wanted to hear none of that, and once again said, “I need loyalty.” But Comey replied, “You will always get honesty from me.”
To which Trump responded, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.”
But, as the investigation widened, the president wanted something more from Comey than just his loyalty, which he didn’t get. And so, he was fired.
During a March 30 phone call from the White House, Trump said “a cloud” had settled over his presidency, making it difficult to move his agenda forward, and “that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.”
Three things are clear right now: Trump has interfered with the FBI’s investigation, spurring talk about obstruction of justice; his agenda is firmly stalled in Congress; and the highly respected Gallup Poll had his job approval score at 39 percent at the end of May.