Senator Tom Cotton Questions Former FBI Director James Comey at Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing

Today, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) questioned former FBI Director James Comey. Click here to watch the exchange in full. In addition, a full transcript of the Q&A can be found below.

Tom Cotton: Mr. Comey, you encouraged the president to release the tapes. Will you encourage the Department of Justice, or your friend at Columbia, or Mr. Mueller to release your memos?

James Comey: Sure.

Tom Cotton: You said that you did not record your conversations with President Obama or President Bush in memos. Did you do so with Attorney General Sessions or any other senior member of the Trump Department of Justice?

James Comey: No.

Tom Cotton: Did you record conversations in memos with Attorney General Lynch or any other senior member of the Obama Department of Justice?

James Comey: No, not that I recall.

Tom Cotton: In your statement for the record, you cite nine private conversations with the president: three meetings and two phone calls. There are four phone calls that are not discussed in your statement for the record. What happened in those phone calls?

James Comey: The president called me, I believe, shortly before he was inaugurated as a follow-up to our private conversation on January 6. He just wanted to reiterate his rejection of the allegation and talk about—he thought about it more, and why he thought it wasn’t true—the unverified and salacious parts. During that call he asked me again, I hope you are going to stay you are doing a great job, and I told him that I intended to. There was another phone call that I mentioned, I think it was—I could have the date wrong—March the 1, where he called to check in with me as I was about to get on the helicopter. There was a secure call we had about an operational matter that was not related to any of this, about something the FBI was working on. He wanted to make sure that I understood how important he thought it was, a totally appropriate call. And then the fourth call—I am probably forgetting—I may have meant the call when he called to invite me to dinner. I will think about it as I am answering other questions, but I think I got that right.

Tom Cotton: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those emails and releasing those and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

James Comey: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said when I left we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that is a question that will be answered by the investigation I think.

Tom Cotton: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein. She was the ranking member on this committee until January, which means she had access to information that only she and Chairman Burr did. She is now the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee meaning she has access to the FBI that most of us don’t. On May 3 on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer show, she was asked, “Do you believe, do you have evidence that there was in fact collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign?” She answered, “Not at this time.” On May 18 on the same show, Mr. Blitzer said, “The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked if you had actually seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and you said to me and I am quoting you now, you said, ‘Not at this time.’ Has anything changed since we last spoke?” Senator Feinstein said, “Well no, no it hasn’t.” Do you have any reason to doubt those statements?

James Comey: I don’t doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what she understood. I just don’t want to go down that path, first of all, because I am not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry it leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting. I don’t want to be unfair to President Trump, I am not trying to suggest by my answer something nefarious, but I don’t want to get into the business of saying, “Not as to this person, not as to that person.”

Tom Cotton: On February 14, the New York Times published a story the headline of which was “Trump Campaign Aides Have Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.” You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, “In the main.” Would it be fair to character that story as almost entirely wrong?

James Comey: Yes.

Tom Cotton: Did you have at the time that story was published have any contact between Trump people and Russian intelligence officers, other government officials, or close associates of the Russian government?

James Comey: That’s one I can’t answer sitting here.

Tom Cotton: We can discuss that in a classified setting then. I want to turn attention now to Mr. Flynn and the allegations of his underlying conduct—to be specific, his alleged interactions with the Russian ambassador on the telephone and then what he said to senior Trump administration officials and Department of Justice officials. I understand there are other issues with Mr. Flynn related to his receipt of foreign monies or disclosure of potential advocacy activities on behalf of foreign governments. Those are serious and credible allegations that I’m sure will be pursued but I want to speak specifically about his interactions with the Russian ambassador. There was a story on January 23 in the Washington Post that says and titled, “FBI viewed Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador, but found nothing illicit.” Is this story accurate?

James Comey: I don’t want to comment on that Senator, because I’m pretty sure the bureau has not confirmed any interception of communications. So, I don’t want to talk about that in an open setting.

Tom Cotton: Would that be improper for an incoming national security advisor to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?

James Comey: In my experience, no.

Tom Cotton: But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation happened and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was, in fact, improper.

James Comey: Yeah, I don’t know if I can talk about that in an open setting. And, again I’ve been out of government now for a month. So I also don’t want to talk about things when it is now somebody else’s responsibility. Maybe in a classified setting we can talk more about that.

Tom Cotton: You stated earlier that there was an open investigation of Mr. Flynn in the FBI. Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you or make false statements to an FBI agent?

James Comey: I don’t want to go too far—that was the subject of the criminal inquiry.

Tom Cotton: Did you ever come close to closing the investigation on Mr. Flynn?

James Comey: I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting either.

Tom Cotton: We can discuss these more in a closed setting then.

Tom Cotton: Mr. Comey, in 2004 you were a part of a well-publicized event about an intelligence program that had been recertified several times, and you were acting attorney general when Attorney General John Ashcroft was incapacitated due to illness. There was a dramatic showdown at the hospital here. The next day you’ve said that you wrote a letter of resignation and signed it before you went to meet with President Bush to explain why you refused to serve certify it, is that accurate?

James Comey: Yes, I think so.

Tom Cotton: At any time in the three and a half months when you were FBI director during the Trump administration, did you ever write and sign a letter of recommendation and leave it on your desk?

James Comey: Letter of resignation? No sir.

Tom Cotton: Letter of resignation.

James Comey: No sir.

Tom Cotton: So, despite all of the things that you’ve testified to here today, you didn’t feel this rose to the level of an honest but serious difference of legal opinion between accomplished and skilled lawyers in that 2004 episode?

James Comey: I wouldn’t characterize the circumstances in 2004 that way, but to answer: no, I didn’t find or encounter any circumstance that lead me to intend to resign, or consider to resign, no sir.

Tom Cotton: Thank you.