Trump administration 'defamed' Comey, lied about FBI
Fired FBI chief testifies on Russia's alleged interference in last year's presidential election
WASHINGTON: Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey yesterday accused the Trump administration of defaming him and telling lies about the agency.
But he declined to offer his opinion on whether US President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice by asking him to drop an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Mr Comey told US lawmakers at a hearing before a Senate panel that he was confused by "the shifting explanations" given by the Trump administration for his firing on May 9.
He said: "Although the law required no reason at all to fire the FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.
"Those were lies, plain and simple, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and that the American people were told that."
Mr Trump triggered a political firestorm when he dismissed Mr Comey, who was heading an FBI probe into allegations of Russian meddling into last year's US presidential election.
In written testimony released a day before the hearing, Mr Comey said Mr Trump had asked him to drop an FBI investigation of Mr Flynn as part of the probe.
Mr Comey said Mr Trump told him at a meeting in the White House in February: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Mr Flynn go."
Some legal experts said that Mr Comey's testimony could strengthen any impeachment case in Congress to remove Mr Trump from office built on an allegation of obstruction of justice.
Mr Comey said: "I do not think it is for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning.
"But that is a conclusion I am sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that is an offence."
He said he had "no doubt" the Russians were involved in the Democratic National Committee leaks and the intrusion in state voter files, and that the Russian government was fully aware of these activities.
Mr Trump initially said Mr Comey had lost the faith of his workforce, but later suggested that his dismissal was related to the Russia investigation.
"When I was appointed FBI director in 2013, I understood that I served at the pleasure of the president," Mr Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee in one of the most widely anticipated US congressional hearing in years.
"When I learned that I was fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen.
"But then the explanations, the shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me."
The hearing could have significant repercussions for Mr Trump's presidency, as special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional committees investigate alleged Russian efforts to influence the election and whether Mr Trump's campaign colluded with this.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump disputed two key points in the written testimony provided by Mr Comey, a source familiar with Mr Trump's thinking said.
Mr Comey testified that Mr Trump asked him to let go of the probe into Mr Flynn, and also said that Mr Trump asked for his loyalty.
Mr Trump disputes those points, the source said.
Mr Comey's account, released ahead of his appearance before the committee yesterday, could show that Mr Trump intended to impede the Flynn investigation, said Mr Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
"The express discussion of loyalty is disconcerting" and could heighten speculation that the "President was trying to exert some pressure or at least exert some influence over the Russia investigation", Prof Gerhardt said. - REUTERS