Comey’s testimony might actually live up to the hype, if his opening statement is anything to go by.
Former FBI Director James Comey’s opening statement for Senate Intel tomorrow includes President Trump demanding, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
Comey’s opening statement is based in part on his notes about his dinner with the President on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House.
My bold and italics:
“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past. I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.
“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. 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.
“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.
“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.
“A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” 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.”
Here’s the part that kills claims that Trump simply doesn’t understand how this is supposed to work:
“At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House.”
The President again returns to the subject of Comey’s employment, even though Comey has not given him assurances that he will be “loyal” to the President, since that is actually not part of the job of the FBI Director:
“Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things…. 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.”
The dinner included references to whether or not Comey wanted to keep his job, and several demands for loyalty as a part of that decision.
Normally, FBI Directors are not fired with changing administrations. They work for ten year terms to overlap presidents so that they can be independent, as Comey explained to the President.
Comey spoke with President Obama only twice, whereas in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, Trump has already made contact with Comey nine times.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.