Former FBI Director James Comey will tell Congress on Thursday that President Donald Trump repeatedly urged him to halt a probe into his former national security adviser's ties to Russia and to declare publicly that Trump himself was not being investigated.
Comey's testimony in the most widely anticipated congressional hearing in years will put the spotlight on whether Trump's comments about the Russia investigation were an attempt to obstruct the FBI probe that has dogged his 5-month-old presidency.
The outcome of Comey's testimony could have significant repercussions for Trump's 139-day-old presidency as special counsel Robert Mueller and multiple congressional committees investigate whether Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
|FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L), on February 28, 2017, White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C), February 13, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey in Washington U.S. on July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool, Carlos Barria, Gary Cameron/File Photo
The White House and Russia deny any collusion has occurred.
In written testimony released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Comey quoted Trump as telling him the Russia investigation was a "cloud" that impaired his ability to operate as president.
In a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, Comey's statement said, Trump asked him to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, part of a wider probe into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Comey quoted Trump as saying.
Comey said Trump told him during a one-on-one dinner on Jan. 27 that he needed "loyalty."
Trump fired the FBI chief on May 9, setting off a political fire storm, and he has since called Comey a "showboat" and a "grandstander."
Democrats and some Republicans on the committee will use the hearing on Thursday to press for further details of any attempts by Trump to blunt the Russia investigation.
The panel's top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner, will say in his opening statement that Comey's testimony showed Trump violated guidelines put in place after the 1970s Watergate scandal to prevent White House interference in FBI investigations.
In a statement on Thursday ahead of the hearing, Warner said Trump appeared to threaten Comey's job in one meeting while demanding loyalty, and in another, urged him to drop the Flynn investigation.
"I do want to emphasize what is happening here - the president of the United States is asking the FBI director to drop an ongoing investigation into the president’s former national security adviser," Warner said in the statement.
On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden he was very concerned about the loyalty comments.
"That is another way the president sought to impede the investigation," he said.
Republican Senator Richard Burr, the panel's chairman, sought to downplay the remark, saying: "I don't think it's wrong to ask for loyalty from anybody in an administration."Reuters