In the mostly highly anticipated Senate intelligence committee meeting of all-time—some bars even opened early so patrons could watch with a beer in hand—recently fired FBI director James Comey testified about Russian meddling in the election, why he felt compelled to keep a written record of each of his meetings with Trump, and why he helped leak those memos to the press.
Here are five things we learned from his testimony. Watch his speech here.
1. Comey says the Trump administration chose to “defame” him and the FBI
After Comey’s abrupt dismissal from the job last month, Trump told NBC that Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander,” adding: “You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”
Comey opened up his testimony by saying the suggestion from Trump that the FBI was in disarray or had in any way lost confidence in him as FBI director were “lies, plain and simple.”
He added: “Although the law requires no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI, by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.”
2. Comey kept written records of his chats with Trump in case the president lied about the meeting afterwards
Comey didn’t interact too often with then-president Barack Obama after becoming FBI director in 2013. They never chatted over the phone and only spoke twice in person: once for Obama to say goodbye as his final term as president was coming to an end, and once earlier in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy. Comey preferred it this way, in order to keep the FBI independent from the White House.
But in the four months since Trump became president, they chatted nine times, Comey testified. And Comey felt compelled to write up a memo after most meetings with Trump as a precaution. “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting, so I thought it important to document,” Comey said.
And there are clearly some discrepancies in how Trump and Comey remember some meetings. For example, Trump told NBC after Comey’s firing that the two met for dinner at Comey’s request. “That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner,” Trump said. “And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I’ll, you know, consider. We’ll see what happens.” Comey, meanwhile, testified that he never once initiated a conversation with the president.
The memos might be the best insight into their conversations, though Trump once tweeted that Comey had better hope there are no “tapes” before he leaks anything to the press.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Comey’s reply on Thursday as to the presence of tapes? “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
3. Comey did, in fact, orchestrate his memos be leaked to the press
In one of the bigger bombshells of the testimony, Comey admitted that after his firing, he helped get the contents of the memos he wrote of meeting with the president into the hands of a reporter. And the memos themselves are now in the hands of the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert Mueller.
And Trump’s “tapes” tweet on Friday, May 12, is what prompted his decision.
“I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation; there might be a tape,” Comey said. “My judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the contents of the memo with a reporter.”
That friend, since confirmed to be Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, was asked by Comey to share the contents of the memo with a journalist in hopes that it might “prompt the appointment of a special counsel” to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Comey said.
4. Comey was asked to call the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server a “matter” and not an investigation.
No testimony featuring Comey would be complete without talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails and his decision to make that knowledge public.
And part of his decision-making came from a conversation with Obama’s acting attorney general, Loretta Lynch.
“At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me,” Comey said.
5. Comey won’t say if Trump obstructed justice. But someone else can.
In his memos, Comey wrote that Trump asked him to drop the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “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,” Trump said, according to Comey’s memo.
When asked by the committee if he thought Trump’s actions constituted an attempt to obstruct justice, Comey replied: “I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to find out the intention and whether that’s an offence.”
That’s not a “no”.