June 08, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) questioned former FBI Director James Comey about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the FBI’s ongoing investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Senator King pressed former Director Comey on whether Russia’s activity in the 2016 election is a “one-off proposition” or part of a “long-term strategy” in which they would return to meddle in future elections.
Former Director Comey responded, “Oh, it’s a long-term practice of theirs. It’s stepped up a notch in a significant way in ’16. They’ll be back.”
“I think that’s very important for the American people to understand,” Senator King said in response. “That is very much a forward-looking investigation in terms of how do we understand what they did and how we prevent it. […] I don’t think Putin is a Republican or a Democrat. He’s an opportunist.”
Senator King also questioned the former Director on his interaction with President Trump in the Oval Office, asking him if he considered the President’s message that he hoped Director Comey would drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn as a directive.
“Yes,” Director Comey answered. “It rings in my ear as will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest,” speaking in reference to a saying from England’s King Henry II in 1170 which was interpreted as the King’s desire to have Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury killed. Becket was assassinated days later.
In response to other questions from Senator King, former Director Comey also directly contradicted statements made by President Trump regarding his communications and interactions with President Trump.
The complete transcript of Senator King’s questioning of former Director Comey is below. The exchange can also be watched HERE.
Senator King: First, I'd like to acknowledge Senator Blumenthal and earlier Senator Nelson. I think the one principal thing you'll learn today Senator is the chairs there are more uncomfortable than the chairs here. But I welcome you to the hearing.
Mr. Comey, a broad question. Was the Russian activity in the 2016 election a one-off proposition, or is this part of a long-term strategy? Will they be back?
Mr. Comey: Oh, it is a long-term practice of theirs. It's stepped up a notch in a significant way in '16. They'll be back.
King: I think that's very important for the American people to understand. That this is very much a forward-looking investigation in terms of how do we understand what they did and how do we prevent it. Would you agree that is a big part of our role here?
Comey Yes, sir. It is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It really is an American thing. They're going to come for whatever party they choose to try and work on behalf of, and they're not devoted to either, in my experience. They're just about their own advantage. They will be back.
King: That's my observation. I don't think Putin is a Republican or a Democrat. He's an opportunist.
Comey: I think that's a fair statement.
King: With regard to the -- several of these conversations, in his interview with Lester Holt on NBC, the President said, "I had dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on." Is this an accurate statement?
Comey: No, sir.
King: Did you in any way initiate that dinner?
Comey: No. He called me at my desk at lunchtime and asked me, was I free for dinner that night. Called himself and said, can you come over for dinner tonight? I said, yes, sir. He said, will 6:00 work? I think 6:00 first. Then he said, I was going to invite your whole family but we'll do it next time. Is that a good time? I said, sir, whatever works for you. He said, how about 6:30? I said, whatever works for you, sir. Then I hung up and had to call my wife and break a date with her. I was supposed to take her to dinner that night.
King: One of the all-time great excuses for breaking a date.
Comey: Yeah. In retrospect, I love spending time with my wife and I wish I would have been there that night.
King: That's one question I'm not going to follow up on, Mr. Comey. In that same interview, the president said, in one case I called him and in one case, he called me. Is that an accurate statement?
King: Did you ever call the President?
Comey: No. I might -- the only reason I'm hesitating is, I think there was at least one conversation where I was asked to call the White House switchboard to be connected to him. ButI never initiated a communication with the President.
King: In his press conference on May 18th, the President was asked whether he had urged you to shut down the investigation into Michael Flynn. The President responded, quote, "No, no, next question." Is that an accurate statement?
Comey: I don't believe it is.
King: With regard to the question to him being personally under investigation, does that mean that the dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?
Comey: I can't comment either way. I can't talk in an open setting about the investigation as it was when I was head of the FBI. And obviously it is Director Mueller's, Bob Mueller's, responsibility now. So I just don't know.
King: Clearly, your statements to the President back in the various times when you assured him he wasn't under investigation, as of that moment, is that correct?
King: Now, on the Flynn investigation, is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump Campaign and the Russians?
Comey: I can't answer that in an open setting, sir.
King: Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?
Comey: I have to give you the same answer.
King: All right. We'll be having a closed session shortly so we'll follow up on that. In terms of his comments to you about -- I think in response to Senator Risch, you said he said, I hope you'll hold back on that, but when a President of the United States in the Oval Office says something like, I hope or I suggest or would you, do you take that as a directive?
Comey: Yes. It rings in my ear as will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest.
King: I was just going to quote that, in 1170, December 29, Henry II said, who will rid me of the meddlesome priest, and the next day, he was killed. Thomas Becket. That's exactly the same situation. We're thinking along the same lines. Several other questions, and these are a little more detailed. What do you know about the Russian bank VEB?
Comey: Nothing that I can talk about in an open setting. I know --
King: That takes care of the next three questions.
Comey: I know it exists.
King: You know it exists. What is relationship of ambassador -- the ambassador from Russia to the United States to the Russian intelligence infrastructure?
Comey: He's a diplomat who is the chief mission at the Russian Embassy, which employs a robust cohort of intelligence officers. So, surely, he is whiting of their very, very aggressive intelligence operations, at least some of it in the United States. I don't consider him to be an intelligence officer himself. He's a diplomat.
King: Did you ever -- did the FBI ever brief the trump administration about the advisability of interacting directly with Ambassador Kislyak?
Comey: All I can say sits here is there are a variety of defensive briefings given to the incoming Administration about the counterintelligence risk.
King: Back to Mr. Flynn. Would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?
Comey: No. Well, unlikely, except to the extent -- there is always a possibility if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring it and squeeze them, you flip them and they give you information about something else. But I saw the two as touching each other but separate.
King: With regard to your memos, isn't it true that in a court case when you're weighing evidence, contemporaneous memos and contemporaneous statements to third parties are considered probative in terms of the validity of testimony?
King: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.