Comey’s opening statement, which was released on Wednesday afternoon, was damning and comprehensive. If it was all that came out of Thursday’s Senate hearing, it would still (arguably) be the most important document to be released during President Donald Trump’s short and eventful administration: If there was any doubt that Trump had attempted to obstruct justice in his dealings with Comey before, there shouldn’t be now.
Given Comey’s past appearances before Congress—which he made as director of the FBI and not as a private citizen—it seemed possible, however, that the opening statement would be the most important aspect of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But given his actual opening remarks to the committee, that seems like it won’t be the case.
Comey chose not to read the released statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Instead, he gave a different statement, a furious and emotional indictment of Trump’s treatment of him and the FBI.
When he became FBI director in 2013, Comey said that he “understood that [he] could be fired by a president for any reason or for no reason at all.” When he was fired, he returned to life as a private citizen. But Trump’s bizarre actions in the wake of his firing made him a kind of Cincinnatus figure—forcing him to return to public life to hit back at Trump’s lies and distortions.
“The shifting explanations confused me and increasingly concerned me,” Comey said. “[Trump] had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped I would stay... He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me... and had learned that I was doing a great job... So it confused me when I saw on television that the president fired me because of the Russia investigation... and relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation... The [Trump administration] chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI... Those were lies, plain and simple.” Comey’s voice briefly cracked on the word “lies.” In the first 30 minutes of the hearing, Comey twice described Trump as a liar.
Comey’s various and controversial (and that’s putting it lightly) acts over the past year have largely been understood as efforts to maintain the integrity of the agency that he reveres. It’s clear that Comey has come to the Senate Intelligence Committee to, once again, try to protect that integrity. But the most notable thing about his testimony so far is how raw his emotions are. Comey is furious at Trump’s assaults on the FBI and on the checks and balances that define the American political system. And he’s not going to take it anymore.