The biggest question surrounding James Comey’s account of his pre-firing interactions with Donald Trump is whether the statements that Trump made to Comey about the FBI’s Russia investigation constitute obstruction of justice. Comey is testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and while he is not offering his own opinion as to whether the president’s behavior was criminal, he did just say that he believed that Trump was directing him to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn when he told Comey that he “hoped” he would do so. The transcript of Comey’s exchange with Republican Idaho Sen. Jim Risch:
RISCH: This is the president speaking: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Now, those are his exact words, is that correct?
RISCH: You wrote them here and put them in quotes.
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go.
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go. Again, those words are not an order. He said “I hope.” Now, like me you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases charging people with criminal offenses, and, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there that—where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or for that matter any other criminal offense where this—they said or thought they “hoped” for an outcome?
COMEY: I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words is, I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying “I hope this”—I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.
Later, in the context of Comey’s account of a dinner in which Trump asked for Comey’s “loyalty,” the ex-FBI director added that “I got the sense my job would be contingent upon how he felt I conducted myself and whether I demonstrated loyalty.”