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Marcy Wheeler: James Comey Planned His Dramatic Testimony Release to Undercut GOP Smear Campaign

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Former FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee today on whether President Donald Trump pressured him on more than one occasion to end a probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey, fired by Trump last month, released his planned opening statement on Wednesday. In his statement, he alleged that in late January he was summoned to the White House for dinner with Trump. At the dinner, Trump declared, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” The hearing comes a day after senior national security officials dodged questions by committee members over whether Trump asked them to intervene in Comey’s investigation. We speak with Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report, as we go to another top story of the day. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, former FBI Director James Comey will tell a Senate panel today that President Trump repeatedly demanded his loyalty and pressured Comey to end the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey, who was fired by Trump last month amidst the growing FBI investigation into Russia’s role in the November U.S. election, released his planned opening remarks to lawmakers on Wednesday, ahead of his highly anticipated appearance today before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: In Comey’s statement, he reveals he was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the president on January 27th, a week after President Trump was inaugurated, where Trump asked whether Comey wished to keep his job, before declaring, quote, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Comey states Trump later asked him to “lift the cloud” of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and top Trump officials. Comey also states that during this Valentine’s Day meeting a few weeks later in the Oval Office, Trump asked other top officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to leave the room, before asking Comey to drop the investigation into General Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who was fired, saying, quote, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy,” end-quote. He had been fired—Trump fired him, Flynn, the day before.

For more, we go to Democracy Now! video stream with Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website, speaking to us from her home in Michigan.

Marcy, talk about the statement that was released—we’re about to see the actual testimony—but what you were most struck by in what Comey has to say.

MARCY WHEELER: I was particularly struck by details of the meeting that you described, where Trump asked all of his top national security officials to leave the room, and then asked Comey to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn. The details in there are really interesting because he describes Sessions kind of lurking, and then he leaves, Attorney General Sessions. He describes Jared Kushner as the last one to leave. And then Trump asks him to leave, as well. And there’s this sense—Comey is great at drama. There is this sense that he is inviting questions about those two, who have been implicated in this investigation, as if they wanted to be part of the request to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn—as they might be, because I’ve pointed out, and others have, that Flynn would have testimony against Jared Kushner, against the son-in-law. And so this all seems to invite questions that will be dramatically revealed just in an hour.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marcy, it’s also unusual for someone who’s going to testify, especially a top—a former top official, to release the testimony a day beforehand, almost setting up the coverage that is going to occur today.

MARCY WHEELER: Right. I mean, this was covered internationally. I was—it showed up in the Irish press in full form. But I also think that Comey—again, the man knows drama. He knows how to get headlines. I think he was trying to undercut a kind of pathetic effort by the part of the Republicans to smear him. And as I understand it, he did ask for this to be released himself. So he’s sort of orchestrating this grand release so as to, I guess, get enough attention to push back against any of the counternarrative that the Republicans are trying.

AMY GOODMAN: And ultimately what this will feed into, what the testimony of Comey will feed into? And do you think it could lead to, oh, perhaps an obstruction of justice charge against the sitting president of the United States?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, it’s clear that it gets pretty close to that. And we don’t even know all of the details about how Trump might be exposed or how Kushner might be exposed. It is a first step. We also have the testimony or the non-testimony from yesterday, Admiral Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Coats, who refused to say that Trump hadn’t asked them about this. It’s quite clear that he did and that they kind of gave soft executive privilege to the president so that they didn’t have to declare that in the testimony, in the open testimony yesterday. So they’re kind of complicit. You know, Sessions seems complicit. Kushner seems involved. So, it gets really messy really quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, we want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website, speaking to us from Michigan.

And that does it for our show. I’ll be speaking tonight at 6:00 at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center—that’s Thursday; on Saturday morning in Chicago at the People’s Summit at 9:30 in McCormick Place; and then on Sunday at Green Fest at 1:00 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center here in New York City. You can check our website at

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