One big question heading into Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with former FBI Director James Comey was whether Comey thinks President Donald Trump’s conversations add up to obstruction of justice.
Comey was asked right away. He wasn’t willing to give his personal opinion, but he made it very clear that he found the president’s actions troubling and thinks a special prosecutor will make a final decision.
Richard Burr, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked the former FBI director about a conversation in which Donald Trump asked Comey to lay off former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Burr asked: “Do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice or just seek for a way for Mike Flynn to save face given he had already been fired?”
Here’s how Comey responded:
“I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” he testified. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work towards to find out the intention and whether that's an offense.”
The conversation that Comey is referring to happened after a counterterrorism briefing in the Oval Office on February 14, according to his prepared testimony. The president allegedly dismissed the meeting participants and his other advisers, requesting that only Comey stay. The president then brought up the firing of his National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. According to Comey, Trump asked him to “let this go.” Here is how Comey describes the conversation:
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.”
Watch Comey’s full hearing here.