Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in connection with the probe into the former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia, former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday accused US President Donald Trump and his administration of defaming him and telling lies about the agency.
However, Comey declined to offer his opinion on whether Trump sought to obstruct justice by asking him to drop an investigation into the former national security advisor. At a hearing before the Senate panel, Comey told the lawmakers that he was confused by “the shifting explanations” given by the Trump administration for his firing on May 9.
He suggested that the FBI has lost confidence in its leader. “Although the law required no reason at all to fire the FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” said Comey. “Those were lies, plain and simple, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and that the American people were told that,” Comey added.
He further added that Trump’s action was confusing also because he had earlier appreciated his work. “Donald Trump and I had a lot of conversations since he took office. He told me I was doing a good job. So it confused me that when I saw on TV that I was fired because of the Russian investigation,” he said.
Trump triggered a political firestorm on May 9 when he dismissed Comey, who was heading an FBI probe into allegations of Russian meddling into the 2016 US presidential election.
In written testimony released a day before the hearing, Comey said Trump had asked him to drop an FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of the probe. Comey said Trump told him at a meeting in the White House in February, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning,” Comey said. “But that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
The Republican president said Comey had lost the faith of his workforce, but later suggested that his dismissal was related to the Russia investigation. “When I was appointed FBI director in 2013, I understood that I served at the pleasure of the president,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in one of the most widely anticipated U.S. congressional hearing in years.
“On May the ninth, when I learned that I was fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen. But then the explanations, the shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me,” Comey said.
The hearing could have significant repercussions for Trump’s presidency as special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional committees investigate alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with this.
Russia has denied such interference and the White House has denied any collusion.