Trump v Comey: What happened behind closed doors
SACKED Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey has revealed all about his "very awkward" private encounters with US President Donald Trump.
In an embarrassing development for the President, Mr Comey has released a seven-page statement laying out in detail each meeting and phone call he had with Mr Trump.
The statement comes ahead of Mr Comey's anticipated testimony to the US Senate committee investigating whether Russia interfered with the US election and whether Mr Trump's camp helped out.
The statement confirms that Mr Trump repeatedly demanded Mr Comey's loyalty, that Mr Trump urged him to "let go" of its investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and that he later pressured him to "lift the cloud" of the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the election.
'I NEED LOYALTY, I EXPECT LOYALTY'
Mr Comey describes a one-on-one dinner Mr Trump invited him to at the White House on January 27, soon after the inauguration, where the President surprised him by asking whether he wanted to stay on as FBI director.
"I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my 10-year term as director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not 'reliable' in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth," Mr Comey said in the statement, which he will read out to the Senate at midnight Australian eastern standard time (10am Thursday, Washington time).
"I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.
"A few moments later, the President said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty'.
"I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed.
"We simply looked at each other in silence."
Mr Trump returned to the subject later in the dinner, demanding Mr Comey's loyalty a second time.
'VERY CONCERNING': TRUMP PRESSURES COMEY TO DROP FLYNN PROBE
Later in the statement, Mr Comey confirms earlier reports that Mr Trump pressured him to drop the FBI investigation into his national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after misleading White House staff about conversations he had with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Mr Comey describes how Mr Trump asked him to stay behind after a meeting in the Oval Office on February 14. The President told him that Mr Flynn "hadn't done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President".
"He is a good guy and has been through a lot," Mr Trump said, according to Mr Comey.
"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."
Mr Comey said he agreed Mr Flynn was a "good guy" but he did not agree to drop the investigation into his conduct.
Mr Comey stresses in the statement that he did not think at the time that Mr Trump was urging him to drop the investigation into Russian interference with the US election all together.
"I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn's departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls," Mr Comey wrote.
"Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency."
CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin said Mr Trump's actions in this episode amounted to "obstruction of justice".
"There is a criminal investigation going on of one of the President's top associates, his former national security adviser, one of a handful of the most important people in the government. He gets fired, he's under criminal investigation and the President brings in the FBI investigator and says, 'Please stop your investigation'," he said.
"If that isn't obstruction of justice, I don't know what is."
TRUMP'S PLEA TO 'LIFT THE CLOUD' OF RUSSIAN INVESTIGATION
In a later conversation on March 30, Mr Trump ratcheted up the pressure on Mr Comey over the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election.
The President called him at the FBI and said the Russian investigation was "impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country", Mr Comey wrote in his statement.
"He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud'," Mr Comey wrote.
"I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasised the problems this was causing him."
TRUMP DENIES INVOLVEMENT WITH 'RUSSIAN HOOKERS'
The statement shows that Mr Comey's first interaction with Mr Trump was an awkward one, involving a briefing over the notorious unverified dossier that alleged he had enjoyed "golden showers" with hookers in Russia.
Mr Comey explains in the statement that he met the then President-elect at Trump Tower in New York on January 6 and briefed him personally on the dossier due to its "personally sensitive aspects".
"The IC (Intelligence Community) leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified," Mr Comey said.
The embarrassing dossier came up again during a March 30 phone call, when Mr Trump said "he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia".
Mr Trump has dismissed the dossier, which was published in full by Buzzfeed, as "fake news".
STATEMENT CONFIRMS TRUMP HIMSELF IS NOT UNDER INVESTIGATION
James Comey's statement confirms that the FBI was not investigating Trump personally as part of its probe into his campaign's links to Russia.
On two phone calls before he was fired, Mr Trump implored Mr Comey to promote this fact publicly to make the President's job easier.
"He repeatedly told me, 'We need to get that fact out'," Mr Comey said in his statement.
Mr Comey added that the FBI and Department of Justice was reluctant to make such a public declaration because "it would create a duty to correct should that change".
"The President went on to say that if there were some 'satellite' associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn't done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren't investigating him."
WASHINGTON SALIVATES OVER COMEY TESTIMONY
A good friend of sacked Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey gave an ominous warning to the US President last month.
"This is a guy with a story to tell," Benjamin Wittes told CNN. "I think that if I were Donald Trump, that would scare me a lot."
Mr Comey will get a chance to tell that story on Thursday morning, Washington time, when he testifies before the US Senate committee.
The President took the extraordinary step to fire Mr Comey last month.
The testimony will be the first time anyone with first-hand knowledge has spoken on the record about Mr Comey's interactions with Mr Trump - and the US media is hoping for fireworks.
Twenty-four-hour news channel CNN has been running a countdown clock to Mr Comey's appearance for two days, and other US channels will take the unusual step of broadcasting the testimony live.
Media outlets have called the event "Washington's Super Bowl" and are bracing for what they're calling "Hurricane Comey".
So why is the hearing generating so much interest, and should Mr Trump be worried?
WHO IS JAMES COMEY?
James Comey was appointed as director of the FBI by Barack Obama on September 4, 2013.
He was best known for overseeing the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy, which saw the then secretary of state be heavily criticised for using her private email service for classified communications.
Mr Comey took the unusual step on the eve of the 2016 US election to announce that the FBI had reopened the investigation into the email scandal. Mrs Clinton, and many other pundits, have claimed that this decision cost her the presidency.
Mr Trump abruptly sacked Mr Comey on May 9 of this year.
WHY WAS JAMES COMEY FIRED?
Good question! The White House, Mr Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have all given different explanations for the dismissal.
In the official letter Mr Trump sent to Mr Comey informing him he no longer had a job, the President said he fired him on the advice of the attorney-general and deputy attorney-general. The letter implied that Mr Comey's leadership had damaged the "public trust and confidence" in the FBI.
The White House initially pointed to Mr Comey's handling of the investigation of Mrs Clinton's emails to justify his firing.
But Mr Trump contradicted these official explanations in an interview two days later.
He told NBC News that he had been planning to fire Mr Comey before he received a recommendation to do so, and that he had got rid of him because he was a "showboat" and a "grandstander" who had put the FBI into "turmoil".
Democrats said Mr Trump fired Mr Comey because he was leading an investigation into the Trump campaign's links to the Russians, but the President told NBC he supported the probe.
WHAT EXPLOSIVE DETAILS WILL WE HEAR?
Washington watchers are hanging out to hear Mr Comey detail exactly what went on during his private conversations with the President.
Mr Comey took extensive contemporaneous notes after each encounter he had with Mr Trump, which could prove highly damaging to Mr Trump.
The memos he wrote up reveal what Mr Trump said in each meeting and phone call, and also what tone he took, according to The New York Times.
Mr Comey was reportedly uncomfortable with Mr Trump attempting to curry favour with him and he felt the White House was compromising the independence of the bureau.
His friend Benjamin Wittes told CNN that Mr Trump's interactions with Mr Comey were "menacing and upsetting".
Mr Wittes detailed a ceremony caught on camera where Mr Comey tried to blend into the curtains inside the White House and avoid an embrace from the President.
"He really wanted to just blend in and not have an individual interaction with the President," he said.
"So if you look at the video he's wearing a blue suit and he stands in the part of the room that is physically as far from the President as it's possible to be in front of blue drapes … and he was trying to camouflage himself, a little bit."
The President eventually spotted Mr Comey and joked: "There's Jim. He's become more famous than me."
"Jim really saw that as a kind of particular effort to compromise him in the eyes of people who were suspicious of the role that he'd played," Mr Wittes said.
Mr Wittes said Mr Trump went into for an "entirely one-sided hug" with Mr Comey.
Americans are hoping to hear more juicy details about the two leaders' strained relationship during Mr Comey's testimony.
And given they way he was treated by Mr Trump and the fact he no longer works for the government, he may be inclined to offer up his evidence unvarnished.