After former FBI Director James Comey testified about his private conversations with President Donald Trump regarding the agency’s Russia investigation, the president’s lawyer gave a brief statement that contained inaccurate and disputed claims:
- Marc Kasowitz, the president’s personal attorney, said Trump “never in form or substance directed or suggested” that Comey stop investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey testified that Trump asked him at a Feb. 14 meeting if “you can see your way clear … to letting Flynn go.” Comey said he took those words “as a direction” to drop the case.
- Kasowitz accused Comey of being disingenuous about his motive for sharing a memo with the New York Times. Comey said he arranged to give the story to the paper after Trump tweeted about having “tapes” of their conversations. Kasowitz claimed the Times quoted from Comey’s “memos” before Trump’s tweet. In fact, the story about the Feb. 14 memo — the one Comey said he shared — appeared four days after the tweet.
- Trump’s lawyer also wrongly claimed that Comey “admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos.” Comey admitted to giving one memo to one friend.
- Kasowitz’s statement suggested that Comey had leaked a classified memo. But Comey said the memo he shared was written in a way so that it was unclassified.
- Kasowitz said Comey “admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.” To clarify: There is no evidence that Russians were successful in tampering with voting machines, but it is unknown whether or to what extent Russia’s influence campaign may have helped Trump win the election.
Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee on June 8. His appearance came a month after Trump fired him amid an ongoing federal investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump campaign associates were involved in those efforts.
The White House gave shifting accounts for Comey’s firing. It first said the president acted “based on the clear recommendations” of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.” But later the president said he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation and that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
The committee asked Comey to testify after the New York Times reported that Comey kept memos of his private meetings with Trump and that the president sought to end the FBI’s investigation of Flynn. At a May 18 press conference, Trump denied that he asked Comey to close down the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
The Flynn Investigation
There remains disagreement over what was said at the private meeting between Trump and Comey on Feb. 14, when the two men discussed the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
In written testimony for his June 8 appearance before the Senate intelligence committee, Comey said he was among a group of intelligence officials gathered in the Oval Office on Feb. 14 for a counterterrorism briefing of the president. At the end of the briefing, Comey said that he was asked to stay behind while the others left.
“[The president] 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.’ … I did not say I would ‘let this go,’” Comey recalled. “I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.”
At the June 8 Senate hearing, Comey was asked if Trump directed him to drop the Flynn investigation. “Not in his words, no,” Comey said. “Again, those words are not an order. … And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction. … I mean, this is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, ‘I hope’ this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.”
After the hearing, the president’s lawyer pointed to another part of Comey’s written testimony where the former FBI director quoted the president as saying, “if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out.”
Kasowitz, June 8: Consistent with that statement the president never in form or substance directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including the president, never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, “Let Flynn go,” close quote.
Trump’s lawyer is choosing to accept parts of Comey’s testimony that support the president’s position, but reject those that do not.
At the hearing, Comey was asked why the public should believe his version and not the president’s. He gave several reasons, including the “really significant fact” that the president kicked everyone else out of the meeting so the president could talk to him alone about Flynn investigation. That fact is not in dispute.
Comey, June 8: I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony, because, as I used to say to juries, and when I talked about a witness, you can’t cherry-pick it. You can’t say, “I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a — he’s a dirty, rotten liar.” You got to take it all together. And I’ve tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate. A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president’s chief of staff out, to talk to me, if it was about something else? And so that — that, to me, is — as an investigator, is a very significant fact.
Later in the hearing, Comey said it would have had a “chilling effect” on the Russia probe if FBI agents working on the case knew that the president kicked everyone out of the room, looked the FBI director “in the eye” and said, “Hope you will let this go.”
Trump’s Tweet Prompted Comey’s ‘Leak’
One new disclosure that came from the Senate hearing was Comey’s admission that he arranged to give the New York Times the contents of the memo he wrote regarding the Feb. 14 meeting with Trump about the Flynn investigation.
The president’s lawyer made several false claims about this. He claimed that the New York Times quoted from Comey’s shared memo before the president tweeted about having “tapes” of their conversation — not the other way around, as Comey had said during his testimony. But Comey’s timeline matches the public record.
Kasowitz also claimed that Comey “admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos of those privileged communications. One of which, he testified, was classified.” But Comey only admitted to sharing one memo to one friend, and that was not the document that Comey said was classified.
Here’s the relevant part of Kasowitz’s June 8 statement, given a few hours after Comey’s Senate testimony:
Kasowitz, June 8: Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos of those privileged communications. One of which, he testified, was classified. Mr. Comey also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of those memos to the press in order to, in Mr. Comey’s words, quote, “prompt the appointment of a special counsel”, closed quote.
Although Mr. Comey testified that he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that “The New York Times” was quoting from those memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr. Comey’s excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information and appears to be entirely retaliatory.
In his Senate testimony, Comey said he had given a friend — not friends, plural — his memo — also not memos, plural — on what the president had said to him about the FBI investigation into Flynn. Comey acknowledged that he had “asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.”
Sen. Susan Collins asked Comey, “[D]id you show copies of your memos to anyone outside of the Department of Justice?” Comey responded, “Yes,” and recounted how he indirectly provided the memo to the media “that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Comey, June 8: I asked — the president tweeted on Friday, after I got fired, that I better hope there’s not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape.
And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
Comey said it was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School.” CNN and others have confirmed that the friend was Daniel C. Richman.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Roy Blunt revisited this issue, asking, “What kind of information did you give to a friend?” Comey responded: “That the — the — the Flynn conversation, that the president asked me to let the — the Flynn — I’m forgetting my exact own words, but the — the conversation in the Oval Office.”
Comey was fired on May 9, a Tuesday. On May 12, a Friday, as Comey said, Trump tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
And the Times story on the Flynn memo ran on May 16, four days later.
New York Times, May 16: President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
The Times reported: “The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.”
Now, the Times did write on May 11 — the day before the “tapes” tweet — about another conversation Comey had with the president, the Jan. 27 dinner conversation in which Trump asked Comey for his “loyalty,” according to Comey.
The May 11 story didn’t mention any memos. It said the information on the Jan. 27 dinner came from “two people who have heard [Comey’s] account of the dinner.”
New York Times, May 11: Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.
The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
The account, as related by those associates, matches what Comey has now confirmed he wrote in “a detailed memo about the dinner” and “shared … with the senior leadership team of the FBI,” as he said in his written testimony for the June 8 Senate hearing.
We don’t know if Comey directed his associates to share information on the Jan. 27 dinner with reporters, or if he had given one of those associates the memo on the dinner after he had been fired — but neither does the president’s lawyer. Comey only admitted to sharing the memo on the Feb. 14 meeting about Flynn. (Yahoo News reported that a “source close to the matter” involving the Kasowitz statement said: “It is our firm belief that the Times report [on May 11] had the memos read to them.”)
The May 11 Times story said: “Mr. Comey described details of his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Mr. Trump to several people close to him on the condition that they not discuss it publicly while he was F.B.I. director. But now that Mr. Comey has been fired, they felt free to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.”
CNN had reported earlier on May 11 that a “source close to the now-former FBI director said Trump fired Comey because he never provided the President with any assurance of personal loyalty.” That story didn’t mention a memo or the Jan. 27 dinner.
The president has contradicted Comey’s accounts of both the Jan. 27 dinner and Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting. And his lawyer reiterated that, saying “the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, ‘Let Flynn go,’ and “the president also never told Mr. Comey, quote, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’”
As for whether any of Comey’s memos were classified, the former FBI director told the Senate committee that one memorandum of his meeting with Trump was typed on an FBI classified laptop because the Jan. 6 briefing at Trump Tower had been classified.
“It was a classified briefing and so I wrote that on a classified device,” Comey said in response to a question on whether all the memos were unclassified. “The one I started typing … in the car — that was a classified laptop that I started working on.”
Kasowitz’s statement leaves the impression that Comey shared the classified memo with “friends” as well. But, again, Comey admitted to sharing with one friend one memo, which he made clear was unclassified. In his written testimony, Comey says of the Feb. 14 memo: “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership.”
Update, June 9: Kasowitz released a statement that said: “It is obvious that whomever was the source for the May 11, 2017 New York Times story got that information from the memos or from someone reading or who had read the memos. This makes clear, as our statement said, that Mr. Comey incorrectly testified that he never leaked the contents of the memo or details of the dinner before President Trump’s May 12, 2017 Tweet.” That’s making an assumption, as we explained. The fact is, Comey only admitted to asking a friend to share the memo on the Feb. 14 meeting.
Update, Aug. 29, 2019: The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General issued a report Aug. 29, 2019, that said Comey gave a copy of one memo (identified as “memo 4”) to Richman with instructions to share the contents of the memo with a reporter. Memo 4, which described Trump’s conversation with Comey about Flynn, “did not contain classified information,” the report said.
“We found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the Memos to members of the media,” the report said.
Richman did acknowledge to the IG’s office that he was a source of the New York Times article on May 11, 2017, about the dinner conversation in which Trump allegedly asked Comey for his “loyalty.” That Jan. 27, 2017 dinner was described in memo 2. But Richman told the IG’s office that he had not seen a copy of memo 2 when he was interviewed for the Times story.
Richman told IG investigators that he spoke to the Times reporter based on his recollection of a previous conversation he had had with Comey.
“Richman said he knew about Comey’s January 27, 2017 dinner at the White House because Comey had told Richman about it sometime in the winter of 2017 while discussing ‘job challenges [Comey] was facing…and how hard his job was getting,’” according to the report.
Six days after the Times story appeared, Richman received a copy of memo 2. Comey emailed “copies of Memos 2, 4, and 6, and a redacted version of Memo 7” to one of his attorneys, Patrick Fitzgerald, on May 14, the IG report said. Three days later, Fitzgerald forwarded copies of all four memos to other attorneys on Comey’s legal team, including Richman, according to the report. (Comey separately had sent a copy of memo 4 directly to Richman on May 16, the day the Times ran its story about Flynn.)
“Richman was not speaking to The New York Times at Comey’s direction for the May 11 article,” the IG’s office said it was told by Comey.
On Vote Change
In his statement after the hearing, Kasowitz also said Comey “admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.”
To clarify: There is no evidence that Russians were successful in tampering with voting machines — though they reportedly tried — but it is unknown whether or to what extent Russia’s influence campaign may have persuaded voters to vote for Trump.
Comey testified that he had no doubt that Russians attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, that they were behind the hack and subsequent leak of Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, and that Russians initiated a cyber intrusion in state voter files.
The specific question Comey was asked by Sen. Richard Burr, committee chairman, was whether Comey was confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were “altered.” Comey said he saw “no indication of that whatsoever.”
Burr: Are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered?
Comey: I’m confident. By the time — when I left as director, I had seen no indication of that whatsoever.
Perhaps Kasowitz, who did not take any press questions following release of his statement, was referring to a June 5 story in The Intercept revealing a National Security Agency classified report on May 5 that the Russian military intelligence operation carried out cyberattacks in 2016 on a company that supplies software for voting machines in eight U.S. states. The report contains no evidence that any votes were changed as a result of the hack.
Comey’s answer is consistent with that conclusion.
Later in the hearing, Comey talked about a sophisticated effort by the Russians undertaken with “overwhelming technical efforts.”
Comey, June 8: There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that.
Kasowitz’s statement, however, was that Comey testified there was “no evidence that a single vote changed” as a result of Russian interference. Again, it is possible that Kasowitz meant that no votes had been physically changed by the Russians via tampering with voting machines or registration records. But his wording closely tracks previous claims by Trump spokespeople and the White House Twitter account that Russian interference had no impact on the election results. In fact, the intelligence community has stressed that it did not try to determine whether Russian influence caused votes to swing in Trump’s favor.
A declassified intelligence report released Jan. 6 — which was based on intelligence collected by the NSA, CIA and FBI, and drafted in coordination with those agencies — said that the intelligence community made no attempt to gauge the impact of the Russian influence campaign.
Director of National Intelligence report, Jan. 6: The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.
Comey also spoke directly to this issue during a March 20 hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence when confronted with the White House tweet, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”
Comey refuted the tweet saying that the intelligence community never looked at the potential impact of the Russian influence on the election.
Comey, March 20: Well, it’s hard for me to react to that, let me just tell you what we understand the — the state of what we’ve said is. We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something that we looked at.
Comey’s position on that has not changed.