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Comey: White House spread 'lies, plain and simple'

Former FBI director accuses Donald Trump of dishonesty and operating far outside presidential norms.

James Comey

Ousted FBI Director James Comey has accused the Trump administration of spreading "lies, plain and simple" about him and the bureau in the aftermath of his abrupt firing, in dramatic testimony that threatened to undermine Donald Trump's presidency.

Testifying under oath on Thursday in a Senate hearing watched worldwide, Comey kicked-off his testimony with a bid to set the record straight about the Trump administration's claims the FBI was poorly led and in disarray.

"The administration chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI," he said, adding: "Those were lies, plain and simple."

He also said he was "confused and increasingly concerned" by Trump's shifting explanations for firing him, including remarks in which Trump implied that Russia had been on his mind when he dismissed Comey four years into a 10-year term.

"He had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped I would stay," Comey said.

"So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation." 

Comey was set to give details about a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In written testimony released on the eve of the hearing, the former director detailed how Trump pressured him to show loyalty and to drop a FBI probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn's links with Russia.

Trump has not yet publicly denied the specifics of Comey's accounts but has broadly challenged his credibility, tweeting last month, Comey "better hope there are no 'tapes'" of the conversations.


Democrats are intent on determining whether Trump's actions amounted to willful interference in the FBI's investigation, while Republicans have zeroed in on Comey's admission that he assured the president on more than one occasion he was not personally a target.

Comey said it was not for him to decide whether the president's actions amounted to obstruction of justice, a serious crime that could lead to impeachment, but he called the president's pressures "a very disturbing thing, very concerning".

READ MORE: Why was James Comey so controversial?

It was a Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who asked the question that many Republicans have raised in the weeks since Comey's firing, as one media leak followed another revealing Comey's claims about Trump's inappropriate interactions with him.

Alluding to the Oval Office meeting where Comey says Trump asked him to pull back the Flynn probe, Feinstein asked: "Why didn't you stop and say, 'Mr. President, this is wrong'?"

Comey responded: "That's a great question...Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation I just took it in."

Comey was also asked if he believed he was fired because of the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election, as well as Russia’s ties with the Trump campaign.

"Yes," Comey said, "because I've seen the president say so."

Comey described his concerns that Trump was trying to create a "patronage" relationship with him at a dinner during which Trump asked if he wanted to keep his job.

"The statue of justice has a blindfold on because you’re not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you’re doing," Comey said.

Comey told senators why he had decided he must document every meeting he had with Trump, with a written record.

"I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it really important to document," Comey said.

"I knew there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened not only to defend myself but to protect the FBI."

Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr, who is leading the committee’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, said in his opening remarks that Americans deserve to hear from both Comey and Trump as the probe proceeds. 

"We will establish the facts separate from rampant speculation and lay them out for the American people to make their own judgment," Burr said.

“Only then will we be able to move forward and put this issue to rest."

Networks and cable news stations provided blanket coverage of the hearing, and a number of bars in Washington were opening early, with TVs tuned to live broadcasts of the hearing - one of them offering free drinks every time Trump tweets about Comey.

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