Hours ahead of fired FBI Director James Comey's congressional hearing Thursday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee released an early preview of Comey's opening statement. The statement, in which Comey confirms several previous leaks and media reports surrounding President Trump's conversations with Comey regarding the ongoing Russia probe, also provides extraordinary atmospheric details on these conversations, beginning with their Jan. 11 meeting at Trump Tower, and running through their final phone call on April 11.
Trump fired Comey on May 9.
Here are seven of the juiciest bits from the opening statement of Comey's highly anticipated congressional hearing, which starts Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
1. Trump pressured Comey to promise "loyalty."
"I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," Trump told Comey during a Jan. 27 dinner.
Comey said he "didn't speak move, or change [his] facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed." "We simply looked at each other in silence," Comey recounted.
2. Trump is obsessed with the idea the Russia investigation is putting a "cloud" over his presidency.
On March 30, Trump called Comey complaining that the Russia investigation was "'a cloud' that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country." He wanted to know what could be done to "lift the cloud" because it "was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country."
Trump brought the "cloud" up again in his April 11 phone call with Comey, in which Trump reiterated "'the cloud' was getting in the way of his ability to do the job," Comey wrote.
3. Trump insisted that he was not "involved with hookers in Russia."
"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," Comey wrote in his account of his March 30 phone call with Trump. (This was an apparent reference to an unverified dossier, which, among other allegations, claimed that Trump's "conduct in Moscow … included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the [Russian security agency] FSB.")
4. Trump pushed Comey to "let go" of the investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey recalled that Trump started talking to him about Flynn as soon as they were alone after a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office:
[T]he president began by saying, "I want to talk about Mike Flynn." Flynn had resigned the previous day. The president began by saying Flynn hadn't done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the vice president. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.
The president then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information — a concern I shared and still share. [...]
The president then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." 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." (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would "let this go." [James Comey, via Senate Intelligence Committee]
5. Comey got suckered into that one-on-one dinner with Trump.
The president and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.
It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. [James Comey, via Senate Intelligence Committee]
6. Trump repeatedly badgered Comey to "get out" that the FBI wasn't personally investigating him.
Trump urged Comey during more than one conversation to find a way to let the public know that the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump team's ties to Russian election meddling didn't personally target Trump. "He repeatedly told me, 'We need to get that fact out,'" Comey wrote. The fired FBI director noted that he "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."
7. In their final phone call, Trump ominously reminded Comey of "that thing" they had.
On the morning of April 11, the president called me and asked what I had done about his request that I "get out" that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the acting deputy attorney general, but I had not heard back. He replied that "the cloud" was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the acting deputy attorney general. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.
He said he would do that and added, "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know." I did not reply or ask him what he meant by "that thing." [...]
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump. [James Comey, via Senate Intelligence Committee]