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James Comey Says Trump Told Him ‘I Need Loyalty’

Variety logo Variety 6/7/2017 Ted Johnson
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Former FBI Director James Comey said President Donald Trump told him “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” at a dinner that they had just a week after Trump took office.

Comey’s recollection of the conversation was the topic of his prepared opening remarks before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he is scheduled to testify on Thursday. The remarks detail conversations he had with Trump since just before the inauguration, on Jan. 6, to April 11, about a month before the president fired him on May 9.

In the opening remarks, Comey confirms reports that on Feb. 14, the day after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned, Trump told Comey that he hoped he “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.” He was referring to an FBI investigation of Flynn.

Comey also said that in a March 30 phone call with the president, Trump asked him what he could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation, and also said that they “need” to get the fact out that Trump himself wasn’t under investigation.

Comey said that he took detailed notes after his conversations with Trump.

According to Comey’s statement, when Trump said he demanded loyalty at their Jan. 27 dinner, “I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”

Comey added, “At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some presidents have decided that because ‘problems’ come from Justice, they should try to hold the department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.”

But later in the dinner, Trump returned to the issue of loyalty as he was discussing Comey’s job, according to Comey’s opening statement.

“He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term — honest loyalty — had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.”

On Feb. 14, Comey said that he was at an Oval Office meeting on counterterrorism with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and a number of other national security officials. As it ended, Comey said, Trump signaled that he wanted to meet with him alone.

“When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn’,” Comey said. “Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.”

Trump then talked about the problem of leaks, before returning to the topic of Flynn.

“He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, ‘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.’ I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.'”

Comey said that after the meeting, he immediately prepared a memo for senior FBI leadership. But they decided not to inform Attorney General Jeff Sessions about what Trump said about Flynn, concluding that “it made little sense” to report it to him because they expected him to recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations, which he did.

“After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed,” Comey said. “The investigation moved ahead at full speed, with none of the investigative team members — or the Department of Justice lawyers supporting them — aware of the President’s request.”

Comey said that on March 30, Trump called him, and described the Russia investigation as a “cloud” that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”

“He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia,” Comey said. “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.”

The reference to “hookers” in Russia was from an unverified dossier prepared by a former British intelligence agent who passed it to U.S. officials. It raised concerns that Russia had compromising information on Trump, although the claims made in the document have not been publicly verified.

Trump also told Comey then that there was a “need” to get out that he was not under investigation, Comey recalled. He said he told Trump that he would see what they could do. Comey said he did not tell him that the Justice Department and the FBI “have been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”

Comey said that Trump called again on April 11, and asked him “what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.”

Comey said that the White House counsel should contact the Department of Justice to make the request, which was the “traditional channel.”

According to Comey, Trump then said “he would do that and added, ‘Because I have been very loyal to you; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.'”

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