President Donald Trump cornered former FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office and demanded to speak with him alone. He called Comey directly on several occasions. He requested to have dinner one on one.
And instead of acknowledging how unusual that behavior is, some members of the Senate intelligence committee grilled Comey during his testimony at Thursday’s hearing for not pushing back against the president.
“Why didn’t you stop and say, ‘Mr. President, this is wrong, I cannot discuss this with you?’” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked about the moment when Trump pulled Comey aside after an Oval Office meeting.
“That’s a great question,” he answered. “Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in. I remember saying, ‘I agree he’s a good guy’ as a way of saying, ‘I do not agree with what you’re asking me to do.’”
Several GOP senators followed up on that line of questioning throughout the hearing.
Trump never should have cleared the room to ask Comey to let go of the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) acknowledged during her questioning.
“But I remained puzzled by your response,” she told Comey. “You could have said, ‘Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate, this meeting could compromise the investigation, you should not be making such a request.’”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also asked about Comey’s reaction to Trump’s request.
“You perceived it as an order given his position, the setting and the like, and some of the circumstances,” he said. “At the time did you say anything to the president about ‘That is not an appropriate request,’ or did you tell the White House counsel, ‘That is not an appropriate request, someone needs to go tell the president that he can’t do these things’? Why?”
“I think the circumstances were such that I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind,” Comey said. “At the moment, it didn’t come to my mind. What came to my mind was, be careful what you say.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, zeroed in on the April 11 phone call that Trump placed to Comey, in which Trump professed his loyalty and claimed “we had that thing, you know.”
“Did that arouse your curiosity as what ‘that thing’ was?” McCain asked. “Why didn’t you ask him?”
“It didn’t seem to me to be important to the conversation we were having,” Comey replied.
“I’d like to know what the hell that thing is, particularly if I’m the director of the FBI,” McCain said.
Even people who weren’t in the room criticized Comey for not taking more of a stand: