After former FBI Director James Comey testified about his private conversations with President Donald Trump regarding the agency's Russia investigation, the president's lawyer gave a brief statement that contained inaccurate and disputed claims:
Marc Kasowitz, the president's personal attorney, said Trump "never in form or substance directed or suggested" that Comey stop investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey testified that Trump asked him at a Feb. 14 meeting if "you can see your way clear … to letting Flynn go." Comey said he took those words "as a direction" to drop the case.
Kasowitz accused Comey of being disingenuous about his motive for sharing a memo with the New York Times. Comey said he arranged to give the story to the paper after Trump tweeted about having "tapes" of their conversations. Kasowitz claimed the Times quoted from Comey's "memos" before Trump's tweet. In fact, the story about the Feb. 14 memo — the one Comey said he shared — appeared four days after the tweet.
Trump's lawyer also wrongly claimed that Comey "admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos." Comey admitted to giving one memo to one friend.
Kasowitz's statement suggested that Comey had leaked a classified memo. But Comey said the memo he shared was written in a way so that it was unclassified.
Kasowitz said Comey "admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference." To clarify: There is no evidence that Russians were successful in tampering with voting machines, but it is unknown whether or to what extent Russia's influence campaign may have helped Trump win the election.
Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee on June 8. His appearance came a month after Trump fired him amid an ongoing federal investigation into the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump campaign associates were involved in those efforts.
The White House gave shifting accounts for Comey's firing. It first said the president acted "based on the clear recommendations" of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein." But later the president said he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation and that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he decided to fire Comey.
The committee asked Comey to testify after the New York Times reported that Comey kept memos of his private meetings with Trump and that the president sought to end the FBI's investigation of Flynn. At a May 18 press conference, Trump denied that he asked Comey to close down the FBI's investigation of Flynn.
The Flynn Investigation
There remains disagreement over what was said at the private meeting between Trump and Comey on Feb. 14, when the two men discussed the FBI's investigation of Flynn.
In written testimony for his June 8 appearance before the Senate intelligence committee, Comey said he was among a group of intelligence officials gathered in the Oval Office on Feb. 14 for a counterterrorism briefing of the president. At the end of the briefing, Comey said that he was asked to stay behind while the others left.
"[The president] then said, 'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.' I replied only that 'he is a good guy.' … I did not say I would 'let this go,'" Comey recalled. "I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign."
At the June 8 Senate hearing, Comey was asked if Trump directed him to drop the Flynn investigation. "Not in his words, no," Comey said. "Again, those words are not an order. … And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction. … I mean, this 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."
After the hearing, the president's lawyer pointed to another part of Comey's written testimony where the former FBI director quoted the president as saying, "if there were some 'satellite' associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out."
Trump's lawyer is choosing to accept parts of Comey's testimony that support the president's position, but reject those that do not.
At the hearing, Comey was asked why the public should believe his version and not the president's. He gave several reasons, including the "really significant fact" that the president kicked everyone else out of the meeting so the president could talk to him alone about Flynn investigation. That fact is not in dispute.
Later in the hearing, Comey said it would have had a "chilling effect" on the Russia probe if FBI agents working on the case knew that the president kicked everyone out of the room, looked the FBI director "in the eye" and said, "Hope you will let this go."
Trump’s Tweet Prompted Comey’s ‘Leak’
One new disclosure that came from the Senate hearing was Comey's admission that he arranged to give the New York Times the contents of the memo he wrote regarding the Feb. 14 meeting with Trump about the Flynn investigation.
The president's lawyer made several false claims about this. He claimed that the New York Times quoted from Comey's shared memo before the president tweeted about having "tapes" of their conversation — not the other way around, as Comey had said during his testimony. But Comey's timeline matches the public record.
Kasowitz also claimed that Comey "admitted that he leaked to friends of his purported memos of those privileged communications. One of which, he testified, was classified." But Comey only admitted to sharing one memo to one friend, and that was not the document that Comey said was classified.
Here's the relevant part of Kasowitz's June 8 statement, given a few hours after Comey's Senate testimony:
In his Senate testimony, Comey said he had given a friend — not friends, plural — his memo — also not memos, plural — on what the president had said to him about the FBI investigation into Flynn. Comey acknowledged that he had "asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter."
Sen. Susan Collins asked Comey, "[D]id you show copies of your memos to anyone outside of the Department of Justice?" Comey responded, "Yes," and recounted how he indirectly provided the memo to the media "that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."
Comey said it was "a good friend of mine who's a professor at Columbia Law School." CNN and others have confirmed that the friend was Daniel C. Richman.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Roy Blunt revisited this issue, asking, "What kind of information did you give to a friend?" Comey responded: "That the — the — the Flynn conversation, that the president asked me to let the — the Flynn — I'm forgetting my exact own words, but the — the conversation in the Oval Office."
Comey was fired on May 9, a Tuesday. On May 12, a Friday, as Comey said, Trump tweeted: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
And the Times story on the Flynn memo ran on May 16, four days later.
The Times reported: "The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of it to a Times reporter."
Now, the Times did write on May 11 — the day before the "tapes" tweet — about another conversation Comey had with the president, the Jan. 27 dinner conversation in which Trump asked Comey for his "loyalty," according to Comey.
The May 11 story didn't mention any memos. It said the information on the Jan. 27 dinner came from "two people who have heard [Comey's] account of the dinner."
The account, as related by those associates, matches what Comey has now confirmed he wrote in "a detailed memo about the dinner" and "shared … with the senior leadership team of the FBI," as he said in his written testimony for the June 8 Senate hearing.
We don't know if Comey directed his associates to share information on the Jan. 27 dinner with reporters, or if he had given one of those associates the memo on the dinner after he had been fired — but neither does the president's lawyer. Comey only admitted to sharing the memo on the Feb. 14 meeting about Flynn. (Yahoo News reported that a "source close to the matter" involving the Kasowitz statement said: "It is our firm belief that the Times report [on May 11] had the memos read to them.")
The May 11 Times story said: "Mr. Comey described details of his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Mr. Trump to several people close to him on the condition that they not discuss it publicly while he was F.B.I. director. But now that Mr. Comey has been fired, they felt free to discuss it on the condition of anonymity."
CNN had reported earlier on May 11 that a "source close to the now-former FBI director said Trump fired Comey because he never provided the President with any assurance of personal loyalty." That story didn't mention a memo or the Jan. 27 dinner.
The president has contradicted Comey's accounts of both the Jan. 27 dinner and Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting. And his lawyer reiterated that, saying "the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, 'Let Flynn go,' and "the president also never told Mr. Comey, quote, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.'"
As for whether any of Comey's memos were classified, the former FBI director told the Senate committee that one memorandum of his meeting with Trump was typed on an FBI classified laptop because the Jan. 6 briefing at Trump Tower had been classified.
"It was a classified briefing and so I wrote that on a classified device," Comey said in response to a question on whether all the memos were unclassified. "The one I started typing … in the car — that was a classified laptop that I started working on."
Kasowitz's statement leaves the impression that Comey shared the classified memo with "friends" as well. But, again, Comey admitted to sharing with one friend one memo, which he made clear was unclassified. In his written testimony, Comey says of the Feb. 14 memo: "I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership."
On Vote Change
In his statement after the hearing, Kasowitz also said Comey "admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference."
To clarify: There is no evidence that Russians were successful in tampering with voting machines — though they reportedly tried — but it is unknown whether or to what extent Russia's influence campaign may have persuaded voters to vote for Trump.
Comey testified that he had no doubt that Russians attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, that they were behind the hack and subsequent leak of Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, and that Russians initiated a cyber intrusion in state voter files.
The specific question Comey was asked by Sen. Richard Burr, committee chairman, was whether Comey was confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were "altered." Comey said he saw "no indication of that whatsoever."
Perhaps Kasowitz, who did not take any press questions following release of his statement, was referring to a June 5 story in The Intercept revealing a National Security Agency classified report on May 5 that the Russian military intelligence operation carried out cyberattacks in 2016 on a company that supplies software for voting machines in eight U.S. states. The report contains no evidence that any votes were changed as a result of the hack.
Comey's answer is consistent with that conclusion.
Later in the hearing, Comey talked about a sophisticated effort by the Russians undertaken with "overwhelming technical efforts."
Kasowitz's statement, however, was that Comey testified there was "no evidence that a single vote changed" as a result of Russian interference. Again, it is possible that Kasowitz meant that no votes had been physically changed by the Russians via tampering with voting machines or registration records. But his wording closely tracks previous claims by Trump spokespeople and the White House Twitter account that Russian interference had no impact on the election results. In fact, the intelligence community has stressed that it did not try to determine whether Russian influence caused votes to swing in Trump's favor.
A declassified intelligence report released Jan. 6 — which was based on intelligence collected by the NSA, CIA and FBI, and drafted in coordination with those agencies — said that the intelligence community made no attempt to gauge the impact of the Russian influence campaign.
Comey also spoke directly to this issue during a March 20 hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence when confronted with the White House tweet, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."
Comey refuted the tweet saying that the intelligence community never looked at the potential impact of the Russian influence on the election.
Comey's position on that has not changed.