Comey to Testify Trump Asked How to ‘Lift Cloud’ of Russia Investigation

(CN) – Fired FBI Director James Comey on Thursday will confirm reports that President Donald Trump pressed him to end the bureau’s investigation into former NSA chief Michael Flynn, and, separately, described the inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as “a cloud,” asking “what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’”

Comey released his seven-page opening statement online Wednesday in advance of his highly anticipated testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is set to testify before the committee Thursday morning.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Wednesday afternoon that she didn’t know whether the president has had a chance to review the document.

In the wake of the statement’s release, Two House Democrats launched a longshot bid to impeach the president.

The effort by Reps. Al Green, of Texas, and Brad Sherman, of California, has little chance of success in the Republican-led House.

Nevertheless, the lawmakers said Wednesday they are drafting articles of impeachment because they are convinced Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey.

“The question really is whether the president can obstruct justice with impunity,” Green said. “We live in a country where no congressmen, no senator and not even the president of the United States of America is above the law.”

Comey’s statement says shortly after Flynn was fired in early February, the president told him he hoped that Comey could “let go” of the investigation.

“He is a good guy and has been through a lot,” Comey reports the president saying. “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’ …  I did not say I would ‘let this go.’”

Comey goes on to say he understood the president to be requesting that the FBI drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.

“I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the
controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

The most explosive exchange appears to have occurred on the morning of March 30, when Comey says the president called him at the FBI.

“He 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. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’”

At another point in the memo, Comey reports that the president said to him, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

The statement was allegedly made during a January 27 dinner Comey had with the president in the Green Room of the White House.

“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to,” Comey writes.

“He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during  the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away,” the memo continues. “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

“I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year  term as director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not ‘reliable’ in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

“A few moments later,” Comey says, “the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.'”

Comey says he “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 will confirm Trump’s claim that he assured the president personally he was not under investigation.

In a discussion following Comey’s March 20 disclosure of the existence of the investigation, Comey will testify, he told the president that he had informed congressional leadership on which individuals were currently under investigation.

“I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’

“I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had 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 writes.

“Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me,” Comey says.

It was unclear as of Wednesday what, if any, records or documents Comey will turn over to the committee.

As for how the White House will be reacting to Comey’s testimony, it has been reported the president will live Tweet during the hearing before delivering a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C.

Later on Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with governors and mayors to discuss ongoing infrastructure projects.

Last week, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the president and members of staff would be watching the hearing.

On Tuesday, when reporters questioned Trump about the upcoming hearing, the president was short on words.

“I wish him luck,” he said.

Developing story.

 

 

 

 

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