House Republicans on Saturday released a transcript of their private interview on Friday with former FBI Director James Comey, detailing a lengthy closed door skirmish between Comey and GOP lawmakers over the origin of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and how Comey dealt with the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State.
It was the first of two private sessions, as Comey is scheduled to return to Congress on December 17.
Because there were no television cameras, the transcript is the only way to get a bead on what was said in the interview, which was not under oath, but where Comey was bluntly warned to be truthful.
Under the agreement, Comey was allowed to speak out after the hearing – but lawmakers were not.
So what does the 235 pages of the transcript show? Here’s some tidbits to chew on.
1. When Comey hears “Russia investigation,” it’s two distinct probes. Asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) about the overall Russia probe, Comey indicated that he sees things differently than many. To him, there are two complimentary investigations going on: 1) dealing with Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and 2) the counterintelligence probes aimed at people with ties to the Trump campaign who were in touch with Russians or Russian government assets. “We opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort. And those four Americans did not include the candidate,” Comey added. He did not identify the four who were under review, as Comey refused to answer a number of specific questions related to the Russia probe.
2. What does the term ‘collusion’ mean to Comey? In the back and forth between Comey and GOP lawmakers, at one point Comey was pressed to define the word ‘collusion,’ which has become a central flashpoint of the Russia investigation. Often supporters of the President point out that there is no crime called ‘collusion’ – and Comey says he’s not familiar with the term, either. “What is the crime of collusion? I do not know,” Comey said in response to a question from Rep. Gowdy. Comey then gives his review of what collusion means to him with regards to the Russia probe: “I think in terms of conspiracy or aiding and abetting.”
3. Comey says Flynn did lie, even if he didn’t look it. Supporters of the President have made a big deal out of the evaluation of FBI agents that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn didn’t seem like he was lying about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador during the Trump transition. Pressed about that by Rep. Gowdy, Comey said it was clear that Flynn was lying. “I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing,” Comey testified, as he summed up by saying of Flynn, “There’s no doubt he was lying.”
4. Comey says he saw no bias from Strzok in Clinton probe. In an answer that is certain to leave many Republican critics fuming, Comey said he did not personally see any evidence that FBI official Peter Strzok was biased against President Trump. To buttress that argument, Comey talked about how Strzok helped draft the controversial letter that was sent to Congress just before the 2016 elections, which said the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails was being re-opened. “So it’s hard for me to see how he was on Team Clinton secretly at that time,” Comey said, as he also reiterated a point made by Strzok in his combative testimony – that Strzok was one of the few people who knew about the investigations into Trump-Russia links, and that Strzok never leaked that information to the press or public. Comey though did say that based on the texts from Strzok, he would have taken Strzok off the Trump-Russia investigation.
5. Comey: I’m not buddies with Robert Mueller. One refrain from President Trump is that Mueller can’t be trusted with his probe because he and Comey are friends. “Robert Mueller and Leakin’ Lyin’ James Comey are Best Friends, just one of many Mueller Conflicts of Interest,” the President tweeted on Friday, just a few hours before Comey went to Capitol Hill for his closed door questioning. So, Democrats asked Comey – are you friends with Mueller? “I am not,” Comey said, telling lawmakers he doesn’t know Mueller’s phone number, and has no relation with him ‘in any social sense.’ But Comey made clear he is a believer in Mueller. “There are not many things I would bet my life on. I would bet my life that Bob Mueller will do things the right way, the way we would all want, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, the way Americans should want,” Comey said.
6. Comey okayed leak investigation involving Giuliani. In the final stretch of the 2016 campaign, Comey testified that he was concerned by a ‘number of stories’ and leaks about Hillary Clinton, which he believed were coming from the New York Field Office of the FBI – and were going to people like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a campaign booster for President Trump. “Mr. Giuliani was making statements that appeared to be based on his knowledge of workings inside the FBI New York,” Comey told lawmakers, as the former FBI chief said it seemed to him that the bureau had an ‘unauthorized disclosure problem’ – “so I asked that it be investigated.”