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WASHINGTON – Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he felt President Donald Trump had fired him “because of the Russia investigation,” raising further questions about whether the president obstructed justice in dismissing Comey last month.
“I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation,” Comey told Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. “I was in some way putting pressure on him, irritating him in some way, and he decided to fire me because of that.”
He added: “There’s no doubt that it’s a fair judgment – it’s my judgment – that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired, in some way, to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me. The nature of the FBI, and the nature of its work, requires that it not be the subject of political consideration.”
Comey told the committee in his opening remarks that he had been “confused” and become “increasingly concerned” by Trump’s comments in the days after he was fired, which indicated that he had been dismissed because Trump wanted to “relieve pressure” from the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow.
Comey’s testimony raises questions about whether Trump obstructed justice in his interactions with the former FBI director, beginning with a dinner on January 27 during which Comey said Trump asked him for his “loyalty.”
Experts told Business Insider on Wednesday that Comey’s written testimony, published on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s website on Wednesday, “absolutely bolster the case for obstruction of justice.”
Comey told the committee in both written and spoken testimony that Trump asked him during an Oval Office meeting nearly three weeks later, on February 14, to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey told Risch he took Trump’s comment that he “hoped” the investigation could be dropped “as a direction.”
“I took it as: That’s what [the president] wanted me to do,” Comey told Risch. He added that “the context and the president’s words are what led me to that conclusion” when Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked him to elaborate.
“Flynn had been forced to resign the day before, and the controversy was centered around whether he had lied about the nature of his conversations with the Russians,” Comey said. When they met on May 14, he said, “the president made specific reference to that. So I understood him as saying he wanted me to drop the investigation related to Flynn’s conversations with the Russians.”
Comey said he told the president that Flynn “is a good guy,” but wouldn’t commit to dropping the probe. Asked why he did not tell Trump in that moment that what he was requesting was unethical, Comey told Feinstein that he was “so stunned” by the conversation that he simply “took it in.”
He added that he did not tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the conversation, on which he took notes in a memo, because he had information to suggest that Sessions would soon recuse himself from the probe. But he told the committee he could not disclose that information in a public session.
Sessions recused himself in late February after reports surfaced that he had had more than one undisclosed conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Comey said he relayed the details of the conversation with his chief of staff, the FBI’s deputy director, the bureau’s general counsel, the deputy director’s chief counsel, and the associate deputy director. The head of the FBI’s national security branch was also apprised of the meeting, he said.
Comey told the committee that he documented his interactions with Trump in memos because he was “honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meetings, and so I thought it really important to document.”