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Key Moments From Ex-FBI Chief James Comey's Senate Testimony

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The testimony of former FBI Director James Comey offered a glimpse yesterday into how Washington works. Comey, worried about obstruction of justice, about the story not getting out - so he leaked information. Republican Senator Roy Blunt asked Comey about this yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY BLUNT: On the Flynn issue, specifically, I believe you said earlier that you believed the president was suggesting you drop any investigation of Flynn's account of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, which was essentially misleading the vice president and others?

JAMES COMEY: Correct.

BLUNT: You said after you were dismissed, you gave information to a friend so that friend could get that information into the public media.

COMEY: Correct.

INSKEEP: So much in that word correct. And let's talk it through with NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who's in our studios. Good morning, Susan.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, he's talking about Michael Flynn, the national security adviser and this request by President Trump that he drop the Flynn investigation. And then he says trying to get the information to the public media. What's going on there?

DAVIS: Well, you know, what Comey said and from his perspective is that the actions that President Trump took is that Comey, from his view, felt unique pressure to let it go, in the words of the president that he recalled in his now-famous memos.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: And that he saw that as an attempt to influence his decision-making at the FBI.

INSKEEP: And he thought, whoever replaces me as FBI director is not going to be allowed to pursue this investigation either.

DAVIS: Right.

INSKEEP: And so he did what?

DAVIS: And so he started to - he took these memos, which he kept detailed accounts of all of his interactions with the president. And in one of these memos, after he was fired, he gave it to a friend of his, a law professor, who leaked it to The New York Times with Comey's consent. And Comey did that with the intention of forcing the hand of the deputy attorney general to appoint a special counsel.

And it worked. That special counsel is now Robert Mueller.

INSKEEP: And there you go. Now, the essential question here is was the president ordering or pressuring Comey by saying I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go, or was he just talking? And Republican Senator Jim Risch asked Comey about that. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES RISCH: He said, I hope. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice, or for that matter, any other criminal offense where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?

COMEY: I don't know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.

INSKEEP: Why did he take it as a direction if Trump was just saying, I hope you can do this?

DAVIS: Well, this is like a political "Rashomon," right? Only two men were in a room. One conversation happened, and they both walked out with two distinct impressions of what that was. We should note that the president's lawyer says that his impression was never to pressure the FBI director. And his lawyer gave a robust defense of the president and said this didn't happen...

INSKEEP: Although he did ask everybody to leave the room. And he is the president of the United States talking to a subordinate. Is that why Comey would take this as a direction?

DAVIS: Well, that is how Comey interpreted it. But we should also note that Republicans say that this is maybe just one more mark of an unconventional president.

INSKEEP: OK. So much more to discuss. NPR's Susan Davis, thanks very much.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.