By Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey will say in his opening statement at a congressional hearing that President Donald Trump told him, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty” during an “awkward” conversation at a January dinner at the White House, according to documents released a day ahead of his highly anticipated testimony.
Comey is set to testify Thursday before the Senate intelligence committee.
His prepared statement, released Wednesday afternoon, details a series of interactions with Trump that Comey said made him uneasy and appeared to disregard the FBI’s traditional independence from the White House. He plans to say that though he did assure Trump that he was not personally under investigation, he was taken aback by specific requests, including one from February in which he said the president encouraged him to bring to an end a probe into one of his advisers.
In the statement, Comey plans to say that he and Trump dined together privately in January. During the meal, he said Trump asked him if he wanted to remain as FBI director. Comey said he replied that he wanted to serve out his 10-year term and “was not on anybody’s side politically.”
Comey said Trump then made his statement about loyalty. Comey replied that he could offer his honesty, and that when Trump said he wanted “honest loyalty,” Comey paused and said, “You will get that from me.”
Comey also plans to say that Trump urged him in a private Oval Office meeting in February to end a probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a request Comey said he found “very concerning.” The following month, after Comey had publicly revealed the existence of a federal counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump complained that the probe had left a “cloud” that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.”
“He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia,” Comey’s prepared statement says. “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’
Trump abruptly fired Comey last month. The White House initially said it had acted on a recommendation from the Justice Department, citing as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump later said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey and would have dismissed him without the Justice Department’s input.