Former FBI director James Comey may have set an impeachment trap for US President Donald Trump, with his written testimony suggesting Trump tried to obstruct justice by derailing an investigation.
In a testimony sent ahead of his appearance on Thursday, Comey said Trump tried to pressure him to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of a probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Comey said Trump told him at a meeting in the White House in February, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
The testimony from Comey, who was fired by Trump last month, puts more pressure on the Republican whose presidency has been overshadowed by allegations that Moscow helped him win last year’s election.
Trump fired Flynn in February in a controversy over contacts between the retired general and the Russian ambassador to the United States. The FBI has been investigating Flynn as it looks into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Comey’s statement, posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s website, said Trump also called him on March 30 to say he had nothing to do with Russia and asked what “we could do to lift the cloud” of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
During that phone call, Comey said he told Trump the FBI was not investigating the president personally. “He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out’,” Comey said.
Comey said he had told Trump on three occasions he was not being investigated, confirming an earlier account from the president.
Several congressional committees, as well as the FBI and a special counsel, are looking into reports that Russia tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using means such as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats. Trump and the Kremlin have separately denied any collusion.
Some legal experts said that Comey’s statement could be used to show that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice.
“It shows the president was doing everything he could to shut down the Flynn investigation,” said Andrew Wright, a professor of criminal law at Savannah Law School.
Comey said Trump told him at a one-on-one dinner on Jan. 27, a week after the president took office, that: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
Comey is to deliver his testimony in person at a much-anticipated hearing by the intelligence committee on Thursday.
During the dinner, the president asked him if he wanted to stay on as FBI director, Comey said. The former FBI head said he became concerned that Trump was trying to create “some sort of patronage relationship.”
After a Feb. 14 meeting on counter-terrorism in the Oval Office, Trump dismissed all the participants except Comey, according to the testimony.
The president then initiated a conversation about Flynn.
Comey quoted Trump as telling him: “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.”