Posted: 9:42 am Thursday, June 8th, 2017

James Comey testimony – as it happens 

By Staff Writer

Former FBI Director James Comey is testifying today before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, detailing his conversations with President Donald Trump about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

Here is the latest from Capitol Hill:

12:40 pm – Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) wraps up the hearing by thanking Comey for his work for the federal government, and thanks the FBI for its cooperation. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA): There are still a lot of unanswered questions.

12:32 pm – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asks why Comey didn’t do more to figure out what the President was trying to do when discussing the Michael Flynn investigation.

12:29 pm – Comey says he felt like he was fired because of the Russia investigation, and was done to change the way that probe was being conducted.

12:25 pm – Asked about why he didn’t publicly say that President Trump was not under investigation, Comey said top FBI leaders convinced him that if there was an investigation of the Trump Campaign, that person leading the campaign was Mr. Trump – and that no declaration should be made before that investigation was concluded.

12:18 pm – As promised, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) takes Comey back into the Clinton email investigation, as Comey says he was worried that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was not seen as impartial. Comey says he thought about calling for a special counsel probe, but decided against that, because in his words, there was ‘no case there.’ It was probably not the answer that Cornyn was looking for.

12:15 pm – So far, no tweets by President Trump about the Comey hearing.

12:08 pm – Comey jokes that he is “between opportunities” right now in his private life. Laughter bounces through the hearing room.

12:03 pm – Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) asks Comey if President Trump colluded with the Russians. Comey gives a familiar answer, saying he should not talk about that in open session. Cotton pursues a similar line of questions about Michael Flynn, as Comey gives the same type of answers.

11:59 am – Manchin: Do you think you would have been fired by Hillary Clinton? Comey: I don’t know

11:57 am – In an exchange with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Comey was asked again about the possibility that President Trump did record their personal conversations. Comey says, “my feelings aren’t hurt” as he urged Mr. Trump to “release all the tapes” – if they exist.

11:54 am – Comey is asked again by Lankford about his interaction with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, saying he did not like being told to label the Clinton email probe as a “matter,” rather than an “investigation.”

11:50 am – At the same time as the Comey hearing, Speaker Paul Ryan holds his regular news conference, and is asked about Trump and how he dealt with Comey.

11:48 am – Under questioning by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Comey says no official from the White House or Trump Administration approached him about the Flynn investigation; Lankford says that shows there was no concerted effort by the Executive Branch to squash that probe.

11:44 am – Comey is asked by Sen. Angus King (I-ME) about the Russian bank VEB, which has been the subject of press reports. Comey says there is nothing he can talk about VEB in an open setting. He does not give any indication why that would be an issue.

11:41 am – Comey rejects assertion by President Trump that he called Mr. Trump on the phone. “I never initiated a conversation with the President.”

11:38 am – Asked why he orchestrated a leak of his Trump meeting notes, Comey defended his decision in an exchange with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). Comey says he had a friend leak it, rather than going to the media himself, because that would be like “feeding seagulls at the beach.”

11:28 am – Comey bluntly says the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections is not fake news. He tells Senators that President Trump did not ask him for information on that interference.

11:25 am – Comey says after President Trump tweeted about “tapes” of his conversations with him, Comey decided to leak the contents of his memos through a friend who was a law professor at Columbia University. Comey’s goal – to spur the appointment of a special counsel to probe the Russia matter.

11:20 am – Comey says the President was not under investigation by the FBI on the day he was fired, May 9.

11:17 am – Comey explains why he told President-Elect Trump on January 6 that he was not under investigation, wanting to reassure Mr. Trump that the FBI was not holding the salacious details of the Steele Dossier over Trump’s head.

11:15 am – I’m hungry and I’m glad I bought some lunch early.

11:11 am – Asked why he did not inform Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his concerns with regards to the President, Comey says the FBI senior leadership believed at the time that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Comey also said the FBI was “aware of facts” – that he couldn’t discuss in public – that would be ‘problematic.’

11:08 am – “I believe the timing of your firing stinks,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

11:01 am – Under questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Comey admits he did not push back in person against President Trump, after he felt like he was asked to stop the Flynn probe.

10:56 am – Asked about Mr. Trump’s discussion of Michael Flynn, Comey said he was “stunned” that the matter came up, as the former FBI Director said he again felt like Trump wanted the Flynn investigation to end. Comey also said he hopes there are tapes, as the President suggested.

10:53 am – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Comey why he thinks he was fired. Comey said it’s obvious from the President’s own words that the Russia investigation played a role.

10:51 am – Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) presses Comey on whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice by asking Comey to ‘let it go’ on the Michael Flynn investigation. Comey says he was not ordered to back off, but he felt like that’s what Trump wanted.

10:43 am – Comey says he felt like President Trump was trying to get something back from Comey in exchange for keeping him on as the FBI Director. “I could be wrong, but my common sense told me what’s going on here is, he’s looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.”

10:36 am – Comey says he started writing memos about his talks with President-Elect Trump for a very specific reason: “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”

10:33 am – Asked about the Clinton email investigation, Comey says one reason he went public on the Hillary Clinton email investigation was because of the tarmac meeting in 2016 between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton. Comey said Lynch had told him to label the probe a “matter” and not an “investigation.”

10:30 am – On the issue of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, Comey says that is something to be evaluated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

10:28 am – Asked about confirmation of details in the Steele dossier, Comey says he shouldn’t answer in open session. Sen. Burr tries again a few minutes later, and gets the same answer.

10:25 am – Comey says the President never asked him to stop the Russia investigation. The former FBI Director says he has no doubts that the Russian government was behind efforts to interfere with the U.S. elections in 2016.

10:21 am – Comey takes the first real jab at the President, saying the Trump Administration chose to “defame me and more importantly the FBI” – “Those were lies plain and simple.”

10:20 am – Comey says he was ‘confused’ by the ‘shifting explanations’ from President Trump and the White House on why he was fired.

10:18 am – Comey takes the oath.

10:15 am – Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) bores in on President Trump, saying Mr. Trump made very clear he was thinking about Russia when he fired Comey. Warner also notes refusal of the Director of National Intelligence and National Security Agency chief to discuss their contacts with the President.

10:10 am – Another reminder that there is other business going on. Just down the hall from this hearing, health Secretary Price is testifying, sure to be asked about GOP efforts overhaul the Obama health law.

10:06 am – Burr begins the hearing by telling Comey that this is his opportunity, “to set the record straight.”

10:04 am – The hearing is gaveled to order by Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).

10:00 am – It’s not the first time that bars in Washington, D.C. have been popular places for a Congressional hearing. Hunter S. Thompson, in his writings about Watergate, tells about reporters hanging out at the old (and now demolished) Carrol Arms bar, just down the street from the Russell Senate Office building. “Carrol Arms Bar — like a tavern full of football fans — with the game across the street,” Thompson wrote in 1974 of the Watergate hearings.

9:58 am – If you want to review the testimony submitted by Comey, you can read it here.

9:50 am – So far, no tweets from the President. But the White House is getting out their message.

9:48 am – I ran into my colleague Lisa Desjardins from PBS in the underground tunnel from the Capitol to the Senate office buildings. She counted almost 300 people in line for the public seats.

9:46 am – Another reminder that there is other business being conducted today in Congress.

9:45 am – The hearing room being used today is known as Hart 216.  It is a very large facility for very important hearings.  When it was first finished, most Senators avoided it.  The first hearing I covered in the room was the 1989 impeachment proceedings against federal judge Alcee Hastings, who is now a member of Congress from Florida.

9:30 am – The Senate convenes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opens the session by taking the next procedural step to put the House-passed GOP health care bill on the calendar. It’s a reminder that there is more going on today on Capitol Hill other than the Comey hearing.

9:00 am – One hour before the hearing, the line for the public audience seats stretches down the halls of the Hart Senate Office building, around the corner and into the Dirksen Senate Office building. It is a mix of tourists, interns, Congressional staffers and other interested parties.

 

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