Comey Testifies He Felt Compelled To Take Notes After Trump Meetings
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former FBI Director James Comey is at this moment being questioned by senators on Capitol Hill. In a written statement released yesterday, James Comey detailed his discomfort with private meetings between the president of the United States and himself. In his opening remarks in the hearing today, Comey said it was unclear as to why he was fired and concerned about the aftermath.
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JAMES COMEY: 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, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
MARTIN: We're joined now by NPR's Greg Myre, who has been following these hearings. Thanks so much for being here, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Sure, Rachel.
MARTIN: So James Comey released this big statement last night. And it detailed tiny details about the meetings - one-on-one meetings that he had with President Trump. And it's really this one bit that is getting a whole lot of attention. I will read this because senators are seizing on this this morning. This is what it says. This is James Comey quoting the president. (Reading) "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."
Again, that's James Comey saying that that's what President Trump told him. Obviously, Flynn being the former national security adviser. This is the most controversial part. I mean, the central question in this hearing really is the idea of obstruction of justice - right? - and what that meant.
MYRE: Right, right. And, again, just to add a little bit of context there. This was at an Oval Office meeting on February 14. Flynn had been pushed out of his job the day earlier, February 13 - had been in his position less than a month.
There was a counterterrorism briefing taking place in the Oval Office. And as it ends, the other senior officials leave. But Trump asked Comey to stay. And Comey says, my feeling was that I think something pretty big is going to happen here. So his antenna was up. And then this is what Trump laid on him, saying, you know, Comey's a good guy - sorry - Flynn is a good guy. Can you let it go?
MARTIN: So what are we learning? What have we learned yet? I mean, questioning has just gotten started but have we learned anything new about why James Comey was fired or anything related to the overall Russian investigation?
MYRE: What we're getting is a lot of detailed questioning directly related to Comey's statement that came out yesterday. Again, a lot of the focus on the Flynn thing and trying to get more context and background here.
I think one of the interesting things Comey has brought up is he says he thinks he was fired because of the Russian investigation. At first, that was - left him very confused. He didn't get any real indication. He knew his relationship with the president was awkward. But the president had been saying he - you know, I want you to keep this job. And then, all of a sudden, he's fired. Comey didn't know why. He didn't understand. And he says, I take the president at his word. He said, afterwards, I was fired because of the Russian investigation that relieved a lot of pressure.
MARTIN: A lot of the questioning is, as you say, being based on the statement that was released last night, which is in turn based on contemporaneous notes that James Comey took after these meetings. Did he explain why he was compelled to take those notes?
MYRE: Yeah. It seems very clear. It was because of the strange nature of this relationship. Comey was FBI director for three years under President Obama. He says they only had two meetings and neither was of any real consequence. And he had these nine separate contacts in about four months with Trump - three one-on-one meetings, six phone calls.
And not only were they awkward and uncomfortable, but the president just didn't seem to respect this - a traditional established boundary between the president and the independence of the FBI and its director and that there shouldn't be this, you know, you're on my team. You need to help me out here. You need to put out a public statement. What can you do about this investigation?
MARTIN: He actually got even more specific today. He said he was concerned - James Comey said he was concerned that the president might, quote, "lie" about the nature of our meetings. So he was compelled to take these notes.
You know, to some degree, this is one man's word against another man's word. We heard James Comey today talk about the president. Trump had tweeted at one point, oh, better watch out, James Comey, there might be tapes. And James Comey responded to that today. Do we have that clip we can play? We don't have that clip. Essentially, he said, Lordy, I hope there are tapes because this is a credibility question at this point.
MYRE: Absolutely. It's one-on-one. And this is why Comey says he was taking notes immediately after he walked out of his meetings. In fact, his very first meeting back in January was at Trump Tower in New York. Came out of Trump Tower, started taking the notes. He shared some of these with senior FBI officials. But they didn't share it more widely - said he didn't want to infect the investigation team.
MARTIN: Also interesting, Dianne Feinstein pressed Comey on why, if he was so concerned in the moment, he didn't just stand up and say, President, this is wrong. Mr. President, we shouldn't be discussing this. And he said he didn't know why he didn't speak up in the moment and that if he had been a stronger person, perhaps, he would have done otherwise. NPR's Greg Myre, thank you so much.
MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.