Senators have had hours to pick apart the first taste of former FBI Director James Comey’s upcoming testimony – and both sides of the aisle will have plenty to chew on.
The seven-page written opening statement released ahead of the 10 a.m. ET Thursday hearing shows the fired FBI boss affirming prior reports that President Trump once sought his “loyalty” and help lifting what he called the “cloud” of the Russia investigation. Democrats are poised to use those details to accuse Trump of trying to strong-arm the top law enforcement official in the weeks and months before he fired him.
At the same time, Comey is expected to stop short of accusing Trump of “obstruction of justice.” His written testimony also confirms that he assured Trump he was not personally under investigation. The Republican National Committee and Trump’s attorney already have cited this detail as a victory for the president, confirming what he’s been saying for months.
The president's personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz said Trump feels "completely and totally vindicated."
And without a specific allegation of a crime from Comey, GOP allies are likely to view Comey’s testimony as reason to move past the controversy.
Further, Comey could take heat for his curious account of Trump’s apparent effort in February to get him to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey said in prepared remarks he did not report this to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, since they expected him to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations – though it’s unclear how Comey would have known this.
But with so much salacious detail on the table Thursday, both sides may feel emboldened.
In prepared remarks, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., slammed Trump for apparently trying to pressure Comey regarding Flynn.
He added, “In further violation of clear guidelines put in place after Watergate to prevent any whiff of political interference by the White House into FBI investigations, the President then called the FBI Director on two separate occasions – March 30 and April 11 - and asked him to ‘lift the cloud’ of the Russia investigation.”
According to the remarks, Comey also plans to say that Trump told him during a private White House dinner in January that, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
Comey said, in response, he “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.”
There could be a silver lining for Trump supporters regarding the Flynn conversation.
Comey said that when he and Trump were alone, Trump told him Flynn is a “good guy” and, “I hope you can let this go.” Comey said he later understood Trump to be referring only to Flynn and not the broader Russia investigation.
“I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign," Comey said.
If Comey stops short of alleging obstruction of justice, it could lend credibility to Trump’s case that the Russia controversy and allegations of a cover-up are overblown.
For Eric Beach, co-chair of the Great America Alliance, it would mean case closed.
“If there is no evidence, this will certainly allow Trump to move on,” Beach told Fox News. “If the leaks are true and Comey does not allege obstruction of justice, the rest is rhetoric.”
Scottie Nell Hughes, national spokesman for the Committee to Defend the President PAC, also told Fox News they are weary of Comey using testimony as “an opportunity to continue to engage in spreading unsourced rumors or as a chance for revenge at President Trump for his dismissal.”
The FBI has refused to hand over Comey’s memos to Congress, citing an ongoing investigation. Comey’s testimony could shed light even more on what exactly was written in the documents.
Comey also is likely to be pressed on the FBI’s underlying investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia as well as Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections.
Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers had their thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor during the 2016 presidential campaign. What lawmakers will want to know is if anyone from the Trump campaign aided the effort.
Trump and his team all along have denied any collusion, and denied any efforts to pressure Comey on the case, which is now being overseen by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.