RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One month after he was fired, former FBI Director James Comey is finally ready to tell his side of the story. Comey is testifying to the Senate intelligence committee later today. In an early preview of his remarks, Comey says President Trump asked him to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation and specifically to ease off on then-ousted former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now. Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So we get this unusual preview of Comey's testimony yesterday when the Senate intelligence committee released the prepared statement Comey's going to give. What stood out to you as you read through it?
JOHNSON: Well, Comey describes five meetings or one-on-one conversations he had with Donald Trump, suggesting he was under pressure from the president even before the inauguration. It all began with a session at Trump Tower in New York last year. Comey felt the need to immediately leave Trump Tower and take down notes on a laptop in the FBI car.
Rachel, this progressed into Washington after the inauguration. Donald Trump allegedly invited James Comey over for a one-on-one dinner, table set for two in the Green Room where Trump allegedly demanded Comey make a loyalty pledge. Comey didn't reply, and they had something of a staredown. Then, as you mentioned, there was later on a request to go light on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
MARTIN: So the president has denied this. Last month specifically, he denied leading on - leaning on anyone in law enforcement or otherwise to ease off on Flynn. So this is one man's word against another's.
JOHNSON: It is. It's going to be a bit of a credibility contest today between the former FBI director, who spent most of his career in law enforcement, and the president of the United States. That's why we're all really interested to hear James Comey tell his story in his own words. Then again, Comey did document his meetings with Trump contemporaneously at the time in a way he said he'd never done with President Obama, which means...
MARTIN: Which essentially means finishing the meeting and going immediately to write down what he remembers in detail.
JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. And James Comey - longtime law enforcement guy - even mentioned military steward's serving dinner and the fancy grandfather clock in the Oval Office, Rachel.
MARTIN: Yeah, lots of detail in there. So there is one thing Comey and the president apparently agree on. There's been a lot of back and forth about whether the FBI has been investigating President Trump personally. Does Comey clarify that in his prepared remarks?
JOHNSON: He does. Comey says he did tell Donald Trump he was not a personal focus of the Russia counterintelligence probe. But Comey says he was reluctant to say that in public in case Trump's status changed over the course of the investigation and the FBI would have to correct their record. In any event, Comey's firing triggered the Justice Department to name a special counsel who now may be investigating Comey's firing as possible obstruction of justice. And President Trump of course is the man who did that firing. So we don't have a lot of certainty now about President Trump's status.
MARTIN: Comey details these many one-on-one conversations with the president. So there's a lot of information already out there now. Senators had the benefit of reading that last night before they ask him questions. Where is the line of questioning going to go today? What else do they want to know?
JOHNSON: Well, I have a lot of questions. Comey only detailed 5 of 9 meetings he sat with Donald Trump. What happened in the rest? Are there bombshells in there he's going to talk about today or just some boring stuff? Comey also says Donald Trump was willing to concede some of his satellite aides in connection with his campaign may have legal exposure in Russia. Who and what, since Trump has repeatedly called that investigation a witch hunt? And Rachel, of course some of the Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee might try to beat up James Comey for being, in the president's words, a showboat and a grandstander and mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation last year.
MARTIN: And we do know this video has come out, put out by the administration trying to undermine James Comey's credibility, like a campaign ad. Are we expecting the president to weigh in on Comey's testimony today perhaps, I don't know, on social media?
JOHNSON: There's been a suggestion that President Trump might tweet today - not yet, though. His personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, says Comey's preview remarks vindicate the president who just wants to move forward with his agenda. Of course, Rachel, part of that agenda is getting a new FBI director. He named Chris Wray to the post in a surprise yesterday, and he needs a confirmation vote.
MARTIN: Carrie Johnson - she covers the Justice Department for us. Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.