James Comey: Trump briefed on dossier salacious parts only
Former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers it was then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s decision to only brief President Trump on the most salacious parts of the anti-Trump dossier in early 2017, saying that was the part they thought had leaked to the press.
Mr. Comey, during another day’s testimony to House committees this week, also defended his handling of meetings with top White House officials in the early part of the new administration, including not telling Mr. Trump that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied to the vice president and then to the FBI.
Mr. Comey, who was fired from the FBI by Mr. Trump later in 2017, told lawmakers on Monday that his agents interviewed Flynn as part of their probe into Russian efforts to influence the U.S.
According to the transcript of his testimony, released Tuesday, Mr. Comey said they figured out Flynn was lying about contacts with the Russian ambassador in which they discussed sanctions. Flynn told Vice President Mike Pence the conversations were only holiday greetings.
“They were sent there as part of that counterintelligence mission to try and understand why it appeared to be the case that the national security advisor was making false statements about his conversations with the Russians to the vice president of the united states,” Mr. Comey said.
But Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said it seems odd the FBI then shielded its findings from the president, even though Mr. Comey had dinner with Mr. Trump just days later.
“This is a top advisor to the commander in chief. And you guys, based on what we’ve heard, felt that he wasn’t being honest with the vice president and wasn’t honest with two of your agents. And just 3 days later, you’re meeting with the president, and, oh, by the way, the conversation is about General Flynn. And you don’t tell the president anything?” Mr. Jordan said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the government oversight committee, also wondered why the FBI wouldn’t have told Mr. Pence personally.
“If you’re concerned that someone is lying to the vice president, one of your options is to go tell the vice president, ‘Someone’s lying to you,’” Mr. Gowdy said.
“Before interviewing the person who might be doing the lying?” Mr. Comey responded. “I suppose that’s an option. I don’t think it’s one a reasonable investigator would take, but it’s an option.”
Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Mr. Comey also defended his Jan. 7 meeting with then President-elect Trump, in which the Obama administration’s top intelligence officials alerted him to a small portion of the so-called Steele dossier with salacious and unverified information about the president that he encountered prostitutes in a Russian hotel. Mr. Trump has denied the allegation and it has not been substantiated.
Other parts of the dossier alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Mr. Comey said he only briefed Mr. Trump on the salacious part of the allegations because he understood reporters had that information and it could become public soon, if journalists had a “news hook.”
When CNN ultimately reported about the story, the outlet actually used Mr. Comey’s briefing as the news hook to justify running the item. CNN also went beyond the prostitutes angle Mr. Comey had predicted, and delved into other Russian collusion allegations Mr. Comey did not brief the president on.
“I would argue you created the very news hook that you said you were concerned about,” Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, told Mr. Comey.
GOP lawmakers, about to lose the power of the gavel when they slip into the minority next year, had wanted one last crack at Mr. Comey, who they saw as the center of botched decisions at the FBI not to investigate Hillary Clinton and instead to focus on Mr. Trump.
Monday’s six-hour hearing happened behind closed doors, but Mr. Comey insisted a transcript be released within 24 hours as one of his conditions for testifying. And the committee made good on the agreement, releasing the 173 page transcript Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Comey said having it made public would prevent Republicans from misconstruing what he said.