White House defamed me, says FBI ex-chief

White House defamed me, says FBI ex-chief

Ousted FBI chief James Comey accused the White House of lies and defamation on Thursday, in an explosive testimony that painted US President Donald Trump as dishonest and operating far outside presidential norms.

During almost three hours of blockbuster sworn testimony to a Senate panel, Comey described himself as “stunned” by Trump’s “very disturbing” and “very concerning” behavior during several private meetings.

Expanding on the bombshell statement released on the eve of his appearance, Comey said the president asked him for “loyalty” during a White House dinner and to lay off former national security advisor Mike Flynn – who is under criminal investigation – imploring Comey to “let this go.”

“It’s my judgement that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” he told senators. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavour was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.”

Detailing private talks with a sitting president, which under normal circumstances would never see the light of day, Comey said he took painstaking notes of the extraordinary encounters for fear Trump might “lie” about the meetings.

Comey indicated that it was now up to a high-powered special prosecutor to determine whether the president's behavior constituted an obstruction of justice, a potentially impeachable offense.

Trump avoided directly responding to the explosive accusations, defiantly telling supporters at a religious event in the capital: “We are going to fight and win.”  But the White House hit back angrily at Comey. “I can definitely say the president is not a liar and frankly am insulted by that question,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

No probe on Trump
Easing months of speculation Comey did confirm that Trump was not personally the subject of a counterterror or criminal probe.  The probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has ensnared close aides of the president and has vast-ranging political and geopolitical implications.

After solemnly raising his right hand and vowing to tell the whole truth, a visibly aggrieved Comey kicked-off his testimony with a bid to set the record straight. “Although the law requires no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader,” he charged.  “Those were lies plain and simple,” Comey said, firing a shot of tension through hearing room 216 of the Senate’s Hart building, which stood silent.

Democrats are intent on determining whether Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice, while Republicans have zeroed in on Comey’s admission he assured the president he was not personally an FBI investigation target. Republicans also pounced on Comey’s admission that he leaked personal notes on his meetings with Trump to prompt the naming of a special prosecutor to lead the Russia probe. 

In his written statement, Comey described his mounting discomfort in the weeks leading up to his dismissal as Trump pulled him aside in one-on-one encounters and in phone calls to press him on the probe into Trump campaign associates and possible collusion with a Russian effort to tilt the 2016 vote in the Republican’s favour.

At a private White House dinner on January 27, just days after the billionaire took office, Comey said Trump appeared to want to “create some sort of patronage relationship” with him. “The president said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey said.

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