First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Where Comey’s testimony contradicts Trump
Ahead of arguably the most anticipated congressional testimony in years, we got an appetizer of what former FBI Director James Comey will say this morning when he released his opening statement Wednesday afternoon. President Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, responded by saying Trump “feels completely and totally vindicated,” because Comey’s statement confirms that he told the president he wasn’t a target of a counter-intelligence investigation. But there are other parts of Comey’s written testimony that clearly contradict what Trump has said previously.
Trump said he never urged Comey to back down the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. In the light of a very busy news week, a lot of people would like to get to the bottom of a couple of things, give you a chance to go on record here. Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?
And also as you look back --
Trump: No. No. Next question. (White House Press Conference, May 18, 2017))
Comey says Trump told him: “I hope you can let this go”
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He 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.” (Comey’s written testimony of his Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting with Trump)
Trump: The Russia probe is “phony” and a “hoax”
"The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?" (Trump tweet, May 8, 2017)
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony......Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign? (Trump tweets, May 2, 2017)
Comey: Trump said if there “satellite” associates of his who did anything wrong, that should be investigated
The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him. (Comey’s written testimony of his March 30 phone call with the president)
Trump: Comey asked to have dinner with me, and he asked to stay on as FBI director
That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens. (Trump interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, May 11, 2017)
Comey: Trump asked me to dinner, and he asked if I wanted to keep my job
The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time… The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. (Comey’s written testimony about his Jan. 27 dinner with Trump)
Other eyebrow-raising parts from Comey’s written testimony
- “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty”: “[T]he President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” (On the Jan. 27 dinner)
- “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud’”: “On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as ‘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. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ (On the March 30 phone call)
- “He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job”: “On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back.” (On the April 11 phone call)
Why the Trump-doesn’t-understand-the-ways-of-Washington defense falls short
There’s been a growing defense of President Trump’s interactions with Comey, with Republicans saying the president doesn’t know the ways of Washington. But here’s where that defense falls short: Trump asked others to leave the room when speaking with Comey. Why did he do that? Also note Comey’s own explanation to Trump about how law enforcement should be separate from politics. “At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work,” Comey recounted of his Jan. 27 dinner with Trump.
The president’s loyalty goes only one way
An important line from the Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “If one as loyal as [Attorney General] Sessions receives no loyalty in return, what will others in the administration think?”
A Trump/Russia/Flynn/Comey timeline
Here’s a handy timeline to consider in light of today’s Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which begins at 10:00 am ET:
Jan. 6: The U.S. intelligence community details that Russia interfered in the 2016 election -- to hurt Hillary Clinton and benefit Trump. Comey also tells Trump that the FBI doesn’t have an open counter-intelligence case on him individually, per Comey’s testimony.
Jan. 27: Trump has dinner with Comey, telling the FBI director: “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” per Comey’s written testimony.
Feb. 13: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns just after the Washington Post first reported that the Justice Department had informed the White House that Flynn could be subject to blackmail after misleading statements about his interaction with Russia's ambassador.
Feb. 14: The New York Times reports that Trump's 2016 campaign "had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials."
Feb. 14: Comey met at White House with Trump, where Trump tells the FBI director: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," the president says, per a memo Comey wrote about the meeting. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey also tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prevent future direct communication between the president and him, per Comey’s testimony.
March 1: The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Sessions met with Russia's envoy twice in 2016 -- which Sessions didn't disclose in his confirmation hearing.
March 2: Sessions recuses himself from any federal inquiries involving Trump's 2016 campaign.
March 20: FBI Director Comey confirms his agency is investigation allegations that Trump's 2016 campaign might have contacts with Russian entities.
March 30: Trump calls Comey asking him what could be done to “lift the cloud” over Russia, per Comey’s testimony.
March 31: Trump tweets, “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
April 11: Trump once again calls Comey and says “the cloud” is getting in the way of his ability to do his job, per Comey’s testimony.
May 2: Trump tweets that Comey "was the best thing that ever happened" to Hillary Clinton, and adds that the Russia investigation is "phony."
May 3: Comey tells Senate Judiciary Committee that he won't be providing updates about the FBI's Russia inquiry until the matter is concluded.
May 8: Former Acting Attorney Sally Yates testifies to Congress that she first warned White House Counsel Donald McGhan on Jan. 26 about Flynn's misleading comments -- 18 days prior to Flynn's ouster as national security adviser.
May 8: Trump tweets, "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?"
May 9: Trump fires Comey. The original explanation is that it was due to how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation -- and was based on the recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
May 10: In Oval Office meeting, Trump tells Russian officials, "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job," he said, according to the New York Times. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
May 11: In interview with NBC's Lester Holt, Trump said he firing Comey regardless of what Rosenstein recommended. And he suggested the Russia investigation was a reason behind the dismissal. "When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."
May 12: Trump tweets, "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
It’s Election Day in Britain
In case there wasn’t enough political activity, there’s also this: “Voting in the UK general election is under way at more than 40,000 polling stations across the country,” the BBC says. “Polls opened at 07:00 BST (2:00 am ET) on Thursday, with counting starting once voting ends at 22:00 BST (5:00 pm ET). A total of 650 Westminster MPs will be elected, with about 46.9 million people registered to vote. That is up from the last general election, in 2015, when there were 46.4 million registered voters.”