WASHINGTON –– Ex-FBI chief James Comey will tell Congress on Thursday President Donald Trump wanted a “patronage relationship” and asked for his “loyalty”.
According to his opening statement, Comey will also testify the president asked him to drop an inquiry into fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Comey will back up the president’s assertion that the FBI chief assured him Trump was not under scrutiny.
He will say Trump called the Russian probe “a cloud” over him.
In Thursday’s eagerly anticipated hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey will detail his interactions with Trump leading up to his firing on May 9.
It is one of several congressional panels that, along with the FBI, is investigating US intelligence assessments that Russian hackers meddled in last November’s presidential election in an effort to help Trump beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The inquiries are also investigating whether any Trump campaign officials colluded with the alleged Kremlin plot, which Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Comey will say his first meeting with the president occurred on January 6 in a conference room at Trump Tower, where Comey briefed him alone on “salacious and unverified” allegations about him.
A dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official had claimed the Russian security services possessed compromising material on Trump, including that he had been recorded consorting with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel.
Comey’s statement says the president “expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them” during a subsequent meeting.
That denial came in a one-on-one dinner on January 27 at the White House, Comey will say, adding that he had a “very awkward conversation” with the president that evening.
Trump asked the FBI director during the discussion in the Green Room whether he wanted to stay in his job, Comey will testify.
He will say he found this “strange” because Trump had already told him twice in earlier conversations that he hoped he would not step down.
The former FBI director will testify the question “concerned me greatly” because he felt the dinner was an effort to “create some sort of patronage relationship”.
The former FBI director will say: “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.”
In testimony, the former FBI director will detail his next encounter with Trump, during a meeting attended by intelligence chiefs at the White House on February 14.
The president asked Comey to stay at the end of the Oval Office meeting and told him: “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.”
Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser just 24 days into the job after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Comey will say Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”
The former FBI director will testify that he offered no such assurance.
Comey will also say the president phoned him on March 30 and said the Russia investigation was “a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country”.
The former FBI director will testify that Trump “said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia”.
Comey will say he assured Trump during their discussions on January 6, January 27 and March 30 that the president himself was not under investigation.
He will testify that Trump told him during the March 30 phone call: “We need to get that fact out.”
The former FBI director will say Trump phoned him again on April 11 to press him on this matter. It was the last time they spoke. Comey will say he told the president the White House should contact the Department of Justice.
The former FBI director notes that he spoke with President Barack Obama only twice during the more than three years that their time in office overlapped.
But he can recall nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months, three in person and six on the phone.
Trump’s interactions with Comey are likely to fuel Democratic suggestions that the president may have tried to obstruct justice.
However, the Republican president will seize on Comey’s vindication of Trump’s assertion that he himself was not under scrutiny.
Trump said in his dismissal letter to Comey: “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”