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Here's Everything You Need To Know About James Comey's Dramatic Testimony On Trump And Russia

Comey said he was fired over the Russia investigation. Trump’s lawyer fired back. Most people made jokes and drank.

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Updated on

Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Trump and the Russia investigation on Thursday. Before we get into it, here's a quick rundown:

* Here's Comey's biggest line of the day: "I was fired because of the Russia investigation ... to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal."

* And to back things up, and remind you why we're all here: Trump fired Comey as FBI director. Comey says that happened because Trump wanted him to bury the investigation into ties between one of his top aides and Russia. Trump says Comey was performing badly and was a "nut job." It turns out Comey wrote detailed memos of his interactions with Trump, which are not flattering to the president.

* Comey said outright that he made the detailed memos because he was afraid Trump would "lie" about their private conversations. He also said the administration "chose to defame me" about why he was fired.

* The former FBI director also revealed he was the one who leaked his memo, through a Columbia University professor, about Trump demanding "loyalty" to him over dinner.

* He also played chicken with Trump. The president tweeted that he may have secretly taped his conversations with Comey. In response, Comey called for Trump to "release" them.

* And, of course, the Hillary Clinton email investigation came up. Comey said former Attorney General Loretta Lynch instructed him to not call it an investigation but a "matter," wording which "concerned" him. Right-wing media say this is the big story of the day.

* Comey released his opening statement yesterday, which read like a damn spy novel. You can read more about that here.

* Trump's private attorney fired back at Comey — you can read his comments here. And White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I can definitively say the president is not a liar."

* This hearing gripped Washington and the nation. People watched it at bars like it was the goddamn Super Bowl, and also made plenty of jokes on Twitter.

* Reporting by Emma Loop from the Senate hearing room; Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, Talal Ansari and David Mack in New York; and Zoe Tillman and Lissandra Villa in Washington, DC.

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Comey kicked things off with usual dramatic flair (for an FBI director). He tossed aside the narrative statement he had prepared — read that here — and instead accused the Trump administration of spreading lies about him when he was fired:

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“The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.”

Comey went on to say that he was confused and concerned about the shifting explanations as to why he was fired, because the president had repeatedly told him he was doing a good job leading the FBI.

He also said he was confused when his handling of the Clinton email investigation was given as the reason for his firing.

“That did not make sense to me,” Comey said.

Comey then said he made detailed memos of several of his private conversations with Trump — who always initiated contact — because he was afraid the president would "lie" about them later:

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Comey said he documented the encounters because of Trump's “nature,” and because he was “honestly concerned” the president would lie.

“And then the nature of the person,” Comey said, going through the numerous reasons he wrote memos. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it important to document. That combination of things I had never experienced before, but it led me to believe I gotta write it down and I gotta write it down in a detailed way."

Later, Comey said he also wrote memos as a way to keep a record to defend himself, as well as the FBI as an institution.

“I knew there might come a day where I might need a record to defend not just myself but the FBI, and our integrity,” Comey said.

“That's what made it so difficult. It was a combination of circumstances, subject matter, and a particular person,” Comey added, referring to President Trump.

Conversely, Comey said he hadn't felt the need to document conversations with former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in the same way.

Comey also recalled another occasion on which he claims Trump asked him about “loyalty” and the topic of keeping his role as the director of the FBI.

In addition to the two instances of Trump asking for loyalty that he revealed in his opening statements, “I just remembered, sitting here, a third," Comey said.

"You've seen the picture of me walking across the Blue Room" — (where Comey reportedly tried to blend in with a blue curtain so as not to be noticed by Trump — video of that here) — "and what the president whispered in my ear was, 'I really look forward to working with you,'” Comey said.

At a dinner with the president the following Friday, Comey said Trump again spoke to him about his role as FBI director.

“And so I'm sitting there thinking, 'Wait a minute, three times you've asked me to stay or talked about me staying.' I could be wrong, but my common sense told me what's going on here is, he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my requests to stay in the job,” Comey said.

Comey told the committee that the multiple encounters about his job made him uneasy.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia who is vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, then asked Comey about the time Trump sent several top aides, including the attorney general, out of the Oval Office so he could talk with Comey privately.

“My impression was something big was about to happen,” Comey said. “Again, I could be wrong. I'm 56 years old, I've been — seen a few things. My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering.”

Comey said Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may have “picked up on the same” feeling.

“I knew something was about to happen and I needed to pay very close attention to,” Comey said. Video of that moment is here.

This, Comey said, was one moment in which Trump pressured him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's ties to Russia.

And here is video of that key phrase: "I was fired because of the Russia investigation ...to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted."

"I was fired because of the Russia investigation ...to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.… https://t.co/4BfInwnDVF

This was a poignant moment: Some of Comey's former FBI colleagues showed up in solidarity with him.

There are 6 people to Comey's right. https://t.co/akVfXuwPFG

These FBI employees attended the hearing on their own time in support of their former director, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to BuzzFeed News after NBC News reported it. The officials are sitting to their former director’s right.

Comey got emotional when addressing his former colleagues at the FBI earlier in the hearing:

"And now to my former colleagues, if I may, I am so sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. It was the honor of my life to serve beside you, to be part of the FBI family, and I will miss it for the rest of my life. Thank you for standing watch, thank you for doing so much good for this country. Do that good as long as ever you can."

Here was Comey's biggest trouble spot: Republican Sen. James Risch's questions about Trump's exact language, and why it was so problematic for an FBI director.

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Risch, who represents Idaho, went back and forth with Comey about the actual words Trump used during their meetings, in which Trump allegedly said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” in reference to the Flynn investigation.

“He did not direct you to let it go,” Risch said.

“Not in his words, no,” Comey responded.

“He did not order you to let it go?” Risch continued.

“Again, those words are not an order.”

Risch then asked Comey whether he knew of a case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice — a lot of people, mostly on the left, say this is what Trump was doing in the conversations — for saying they hoped for an outcome.

“I took it as a direction,” Comey said. “It is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, 'I hope this,' I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that.”

Risch said Comey may have interpreted it as a direction, but Trump’s words were not an order.

“He said ‘I hope,’” Risch said.

“Those are the exact words, correct,” Comey responded.

“You don't know of anyone that has ever been charged for hoping something, is that a fair statement?” Risch continued.

“I don’t as I sit here,” Comey said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, also pressed Comey on the Flynn conversation, asking him why he didn’t just tell the president he couldn’t discuss the matter.

Comey said that he was “so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.” He added that he chose his words “carefully” and responded that he agreed Flynn was a good guy "as a way of saying I’m not agreeing with what he asked me to do.”

He went on to say that “maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance,” and that “maybe if I did it again, I would do better.”

Comey told Feinstein that his response to the president about seeing what he could do about “lifting the cloud” of the Russia investigation was a “cowardly” response.

“That was kind of a slightly cowardly way of trying to avoid telling him, 'We’re not going to do that,'" Comey said. “It was a way of getting off the phone, frankly.”

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Now let's go to the tapes, which may or may not exist.

A few days after Trump fired Comey, the president tweeted this, raising the possibility that he secretly recorded his conversations with the then-FBI director:

James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

Comey said he woke up in the middle of the night when it dawned on him, because of the tweet, that there “might be corroboration” of his memos in the form of a tape.

“And my judgment was, I need to get that out into the public square. So I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter" in the hope that it “might prompt the appointment of a special counsel," Comey said.

He described the friend as a professor at Columbia Law School. That professor, Daniel Richman, identified himself minutes later to a Huffington Post reporter.

When asked why he didn't just leak the documents himself, Comey compared the media to a flock of seagulls, which, well, is kinda true.

"Because I was worried the media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point and I was going out of town with my wife to hide, and I worried it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach, if I was who gave it to the media. I said, 'Make sure this gets out,'" he said.

Comey was asked a few times about whether he wants the tapes, IF THEY EXIST, to be made public. His answer: "I hope there are tapes" and "release all the tapes, I'm good with it."

Comey says he was "stunned" by Trump's Flynn conversation. "Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. I hope there a… https://t.co/7qbZcuuGAP

Later in the day, Sanders, the White House spokesperson, said she has "no idea" if Trump has a taping system in the White House. When asked if she could find out, she snarked, "I'll try and look under the couches."

For the record, Trump has a long history of recording people, as BuzzFeed News has exclusively reported in the past:

Sources: Donald Trump Listened In On Phone Lines At Mar-A-Lago

Why Is Donald Trump So Obsessed With Surveillance?

After the hearing, the administration struck back: Trump's personal attorney issued a lengthy statement saying the president never instructed Comey to stop investigating anyone, and said the discussions were "privileged."

His statement began, "I am Marc Kasowitz, Predisent [sic] Trump’s personal lawyer."

Excerpts are below. Read the full statement here.

Contrary to numerous false press accounts leading up to today’s hearing, Mr. Comey has now finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told the President privately: The President was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference.

...

Consistent with that statement, the President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr. Comey “let Flynn go.”

...

The President also never told Mr. Comey, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” in form or substance. Of course, the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving in an administration.

...

Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President.

...

Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends his purported memos of these privileged conversations, one of which he testified was classified. He also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of these memos to the press in order to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”

....

We will leave it the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leaks should be investigated along with all those others being investigated. .

​In sum, it is now established that there the President was not being investigated for colluding with the or attempting to obstruct that investigation. As the Committee pointed out today, these important facts for the country to know are virtually the only facts that have not leaked during the long course of these events.

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And while the president may have abstained from tweeting during Thursday's hearing, his oldest son showed no such restraint.

Once again he's right way before anyone else sees it... and they found another leaker today. https://t.co/IskdUimuMV

Donald Trump Jr. posted a litany of tweets defending his father and blasting Comey during the hours-long session.

Trump Jr. was especially critical of Comey for interpreting his father as having directed him to drop the Flynn probe by saying he "hoped" he would do so.

"Hoping and telling are two very different things, you would think that a guy like Comey would know that. #givemeabreak" Trump Jr. wrote.

He also mocked Comey for not reporting the conversations to the attorney general, and criticized him for leaking a memo to the press after he was fired.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also had some things to say.

And now for the lightning round of (sorta) 🔥 quotes:

* "A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office?" —Comey

* "The noise around Comey's hearing is highly overblown: Trump's enemies are thirsty for blood. It's reminiscent of the hunt for enemies in the McCarthy era. McCarthyism — an old US illness." —Alexey Pushkov, a Russian official who often puts the Kremlin line onto Twitter.

* " I love spending time with my wife. I wish I would have been there that night." James Comey on canceling a date with his wife to eat with Trump.

* Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV): "Do you believe this will rise to the obstruction of justice?"

Comey: "I don't know. That's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out."

* "That's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting." —Comey, when asked if he believes Trump colluded with Russia.

* "Many building blocks for an obstruction of justice prosecution were laid out in today’s testimony." —Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez

And here's your bonus hot take of the day from BuzzFeed News reporter Charlie Warzel, who, among other things, covers the pro-Trump media:

in what is no surprise at all, both poles of my twitter feed have claimed victory after the hearing. good job everyone!

Comey on Russia hacking: "They'll be back."

Orion Pictures / Via Giphy

“They want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world,” Comey said of Russia. “They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible.”

Comey went on to say that the US remains “that shining city on the hill” that Russia doesn’t like, adding “they will be back.”

“The reason this is such a big deal is we have this big, messy, wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time, but nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans,” he said. “And that's wonderful and often painful. But we're talking about a foreign government that — using technical intrusion, lots of other methods — tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it.”

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Interesting tidbit: There was some intrigue relating to Attorney General Jeff Sessions too — Comey said he was aware of facts that meant Sessions would have to recuse himself from the Russia probe:

Comey said that senior FBI officials decided that it didn’t make sense to tell Sessions about Trump’s comments to Comey at the Feb. 14 meeting related to Flynn because they expected that the attorney general would soon recuse himself from the Russian influence investigation “for a variety of reasons.”

“We were also aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,” Comey said.

Sessions announced that he was recusing himself from any matters related to the 2016 election several weeks later on March 2, amid reports that he had held meetings with the Russian ambassador to the US during the campaign.

Later Thursday, the Justice Department fired back at Comey by releasing an email from Sessions' chief of staff Jody Hunt. The email described the parameters of Sessions' recusal and advised officials not to brief him on investigations into Trump's campaign.

In a statement, the Justice Department pointed to the email as proof that Comey was incorrect when he claimed in his testimony that he never received a memorandum outlining the parameters of Sessions' recusal.

The Justice Department also said Sessions recused himself purely because he participated in Trump's campaign.

"It was for that reason, and that reason alone, the Attorney General made the decision on March 2, 2017, to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States," the statement said.

It wouldn't be a Comey hearing if Clinton's emails didn't come up — he revealed some new details and his thoughts on the investigation (or whatever you call it, see below):

Sen. Richard Burr — a North Carolina Republican who is the chair of the Senate intelligence committee — went back to Comey’s decision last year to publicly announce that the FBI was concluding its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server without recommending criminal charges, which was cited by the Trump administration early on as a reason for Comey's dismissal. The senator asked if Comey was influenced by a tarmac meeting in June 2016 between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton.

“Yes,” Comey replied. “That was the thing that kept it for me, that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation, which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department.”

Burr followed up by asking if there were other things that contributed to Comey’s decision to go public.

Comey replied that there were, although there was “one significant item” that he couldn’t discuss publicly. He did say one thing that influenced his decision was Lynch directing him not to call it an “investigation,” but instead a “matter.”

That exchange with Lynch “confused me and concerned me, but that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly," Comey said.

Good point:

That tarmac meeting last year was vastly more consequential than people wanted to admit. So was effort to say an investigation wasn't one.

And it also wouldn't be a hearing in Washington unless some media criticism came up! Comey said a story the New York Times wrote about the Trump campaign and Russia was wrong, and he also bashed leakers. Journalism!

Comey told the committee that a Feb. 14 New York Times story alleging that phone records showed Trump campaign staff had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials was "not true."

The Times disputes this, and said they asked Comey for clarification so the paper can look into it further.

Comey added that false media stories live on, without refutation, because of the difficulties people in his position have in publicly and directly discussing such matters.

“It was not true. Again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don't, that people talking about it often don't really know what's going on and those of us who actually know what's going on are not talking about it and we don't call the press to say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic, we just have to leave it there,'” Comey said of the New York Times story.

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The hearing gripped Washington, DC — and the nation — with a real feeling of anticipation and frenzy. Here's the line to get in to the hearing, where some people started queuing much earlier than 7 a.m.

Here's the line to get into the James Comey FBI hearing this morning.

And some DC bars — like Shaw's Tavern — opened up early for viewing parties.

But I swear I'm here for work. Hello from Shaw's Tavern, where they are opening shop early so people can watch hear… https://t.co/6LwQ2pJKib

View from in here. Some of the reaction I've heard to Comey include "whoas" and scattered clapping.

Need a quick refresher about what this was all about? Watch this:

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And just in case you want the ~full immersive experience~ here's the entire testimony, in full:

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CORRECTION

Mark Warner is a Democratic senator from Virginia. A previous version of this post misstated the state he represents.

CORRECTION

Sen. Mark Warner is vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A previous version of this post misstated his position on the committee.

CORRECTION

James Risch is a Republican senator from Idaho. A previous version of this post misstated the state he represents.

CORRECTION

Richard Burr is a Republican senator from North Carolina. A previous version of this post misstated the state he represents.

Contact BuzzFeed News at maggie.schultz+news@buzzfeed.com.

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