WASHINGTON (AP) — He came with a score to settle.
Ramrod straight and with barely a blink, fired FBI Director James Comey sat before Congress and the nation Thursday and all but called the president of the United States a liar.
Comey spoke without a script and wasted no time getting to the business of defending his integrity and that of the FBI as the Senate intelligence committee gave him the floor.
In businesses and taverns, on family room couches and driving in their cars, Americans across the country listened in as Comey spoke his piece, laying out the strange course that led to his firing last month and tracing his fraught relationship with President Donald Trump.
Comey used his opening statement in an overflowing, austere hearing room to underscore that as president-elect and again in office, Trump had repeatedly praised his conduct and assured him he was popular within the FBI.
“So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. He mentioned other Trump team claims that he’d been fired for his conduct during the presidential election in investigating Hillary Clinton’s email, adding “that didn’t make sense to me.”
From there, Comey charged, the administration “chose to defame me, and more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.”
His kicker: “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 them.”
It was clear Comey considered the president to be among those who had lied and defamed him.
In fact, Trump himself tweeted after firing Comey that the FBI director had “lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike.” Published reports said Trump told Russian diplomats that Comey was a “nut job.”
It’s not every day that the White House has to issue this kind of statement:
“I can definitely say the president’s not a liar,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
The gist of Comey’s extraordinary claims that Trump had pressed him for “loyalty” in general and specifically to drop an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was known in advance of Thursday’s hearing.
But Comey’s testimony nonetheless served up a riveting insider’s account of the one-on-one encounters in which the president pushed him to back off.
Over and over, Comey brought up the significance of Trump’s insistence on shooing everyone else out of the Oval Office — including the attorney general — before the president made his request to squelch the investigation.
“So why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office?” Comey asked at one point.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey exclaimed at another, eager to have his claims verified in what comes down to a question of Comey’s word vs. the president’s.
“Release all the tapes,” Comey urged. “I’m good with it.”
Democratic senators gave Comey a sympathetic audience, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon telling him: “The timing of your firing stinks.”
“The odor of presidential abuse of power is so strong,” Wyden added.
Asked if he believed it all adds up to obstruction of justice, Comey punted, saying it was up to the special counsel to investigate.
“I don’t know,” Comey said simply. “That’s Bob Mueller’s job to sort that out.”
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