In his testimony to the US Senate on Thursday, James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), told the intelligence committee that President Donald Trump fired him due to his investigation into ties between the president’s campaign team and Russia, but that the president did not personally ask him to stop the probe.
The former FBI boss was sacked on May 9.
After his dismissal, the president alleged that the FBI had lost confidence in Mr. Comey, which the former FBI director said was a lie.
“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly, the FBI, by saying the organization was poorly led,” Mr. Comey remarked. “Those were lies, plain and simple.”
According to Mr. Comey, he was fired for investigating possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign team, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Russia. Mr. Trump’s comments two days after the dismissal of his FBI head suggested that the probe played a large role in his decision to sack him.
“Again, I take the president’s words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him [Trump], in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that,” Mr. Comey said in his testimony.
He did not say, however, whether the president attempted to obstruct justice by directly asking Mr. Comey to drop the investigation.
Senator Richard Burr, chairman on the intelligence committee, asked, “Did any individual working for this administration, including the Justice Department, ask you to stop the investigation?”
Mr. Comey replied “no,” but felt that Mr. Trump had intimidated him into stopping the investigation.
"I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning," he said.
When asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein why he didn’t stand up to Mr. Trump after asking to drop the Russia probe, he said he was too ‘stunned’ to do so.
“Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in and the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind to remember every word he said, I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? That's why I very carefully chose the words," Mr. Comey said.
Mr. Comey was also asked about alleged tapes of a conversation he held with the president.
After sacking the FBI head, Mr. Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
“Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Mr. Comey said. “I hope there are and I’ll consent to the release of them ... The president surely knows if he taped me and if he did my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all the tapes.”
Mr. Comey was also grilled by Senator John McCain, an ex officio member of the committee, who asked for clarification over a phone call Mr. Comey had with the president, the contents of which were contained in his written testimony.
According to his testimony, Mr. Trump said, "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know."
“I’d like to know what the hell that thing is,” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Comey, however, said he did not know.
The hearing concluded at 1:00 p.m. local time.
Updated at 2:31 EDT.