WASHINGTON D.C. -- During a Senate Committee hearing Thursday, Idaho Republican Senator Jim Risch questioned whether President Donald Trump was giving an order when he asked then-director of the FBI James Comey to halt the agency's investigation into Trump's former national security adviser's ties to Russia.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go," Comey quoted the president as saying. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Comey, who testified for more than two hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he did not interpret Trump's words as a request.
"I took it as a direction - he's the President of the United States with me alone saying, 'I hope this,'" Comey said. "I took it as what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's how I took it."
Risch - who as the third-most senior member of the committee, was among the first senators to question Comey - pushed back. The exchange is below:
Risch: "He did not direct you to let it go?"
Comey: "Not in his words, no."
Risch: "He did not order you to let it go?"
Comey: "Again those words are not in order."
Risch: "He said, 'I hope.' Like me you probably did hundreds of cases, or thousands of cases charging people with criminal offenses and of course you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged.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 - he's the President of the United States with me alone saying, 'I hope this. I took it as what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's how I took it."
Risch: "You may have taken that as the direction, but that's not what he said."
Risch: "He said 'I hope?'"
Comey: "Those are his exact words, correct."
Risch: "You don't know of anyone that's ever been charged for hoping something, is that a fair statement?"
Comey: "I don't, as I sit here."
Later during the hearing, Comey likened Trump's words to a quote attributed to English king Henry II.
"It rings in my ears of 'who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?'," he said, referring to what by King Henry II purportedly said about Thomas Becket in the 12th century. Becket was later killed by Henry's knights.
Trump has disputed Comey's account of the conversation, tweeting "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
The FBI director said he would welcome the release of any recordings.
"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," he told senators.
Click below to watch the entire proceeding.