Ever since former FBI Director James Comey agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a public hearing, politicos, pundits and just about everyone else have been counting down the days until today. Once the committee finally scheduled Comey’s testimony, subsequent reports about what he would say about Trump and other related incidents behind the scenes dominated the news cycle — the White House’s “Infrastructure Week” notwithstanding. The day before Thursday’s hearing, the committee released (at Comey’s request) his written opening statement, which included portions of his now infamous memos.
The written statement generated all kinds of criticism and rebuttals, but it all paled in comparison to Comey’s delivery before the committee, during which he chose not to recite the statement in full. “I’ve submitted my statement for the record and I’m not going to repeat it here this morning,” he said. “I thought I would just offer some very brief introductory remarks.” Those remarks began not with the memos presented in his published written statement but with his firing by Trump and what led him to testify on the matter:
“The shifting explanations — confused me and increasingly concerned me. They confused me because the president and I had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office. He had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job, and he hoped I would stay. I had repeated assured him that I did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term… So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying he actually fired me because of the Russian investigation. And learned — again, from the media — that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved ‘great pressure’ on the Russia investigation. I was also confused by the initial explanation that offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year.”
Many of Comey’s points here — learning about his firing from television, Trump’s citing the Russia investigation as reason in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt about, and the president’s “great pressure” comment — have all popped up in past coverage. So what the former FBI director was saying wasn’t necessarily new, though that didn’t stop Comey from launching into the White House for what followed.
“The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI,” he said, “by saying the organization was in disarray, it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.”