Former FBI Director James Comey stated that he took President Donald Trump’s comments about letting the Michael Flynn investigation go as a direct request to do it. In a blockbuster hearing full of key moments, that was the main highlight.
“I took it as direction,” Comey told Sen. James Risch (R-ID) during their exchange about Trump’s request to him.
This was what many people watching the hearing were looking for. In the memos of the conversations Comey had with Trump — and in the testimony he prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee — Comey laid out Trump’s ask: “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.”
For some officials, primarily GOP members, that interaction was not immediately seen as an ask for immediate action of Comey to stop the Flynn probe. But that’s not how Comey saw it. Instead, he described under oath that he felt Trump was trying to get him to lay off the president’s former national security adviser.
Update: Watch Comey’s testimony live
Comey never said the interaction amounted to obstruction of justice. However, he clearly felt something inappropriate was happening, that the president of the United States tried to stop an open investigation into one of the former members of his inner circle.
Whether it is obstruction of justice, well, as Comey said, “I'm sure the special counsel will work towards to find out the intention there and whether that's an offense.”
That’s a huge deal, and something the senators will surely ask more about in the closed session they will have with Comey this afternoon.
Below is a video and a transcript of the exchange:
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Words matter. You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There's 28 words now in quotes. It says, quote, I hope — this is the president speaking — “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.” Now, those are his exact words, is that correct?
JAMES COMEY: Correct.
RISCH: You wrote them here and put them in quotes.
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go?
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go?
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: He said, I hope. Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, charging people with criminal offenses and, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?
COMEY: I don't know well enough to answer. The reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.