WASHINGTON (NBC) -- Fired FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday that he was "confused" and "concerned" when President Donald Trump told the public he was firing him for undermining the morale of the agency he had led since 2013.
"Those were lies, plain and simple," Comey said.
The Trump administration, he said, "chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader."
Comey also said that while he didn’t want to express an opinion on whether Trump was seeking to obstruct the ongoing investigation into Russians meddling into the presidential election, he is “sure” the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will be examining that. And he said he is sure he was fired because of "the Russia investigation."
Comey also explained why he wrote memos chronicling his private conversations with Trump: he had a "gut feeling" the president might lie about the nature of the meetings.
"I knew there might come a day when I needed a record of what happened," he said, citing the "nature" of the person he was dealing with. He added that he never felt the need for such a record in dealing with two former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Questioned about Trump's public statement that Comey had "better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations," the former director replied, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
Comey's forthright and unflinching remarks to the committee — openly acknowledging his fear of the president's mendacity — made for two hours and 40 minutes of dramatic sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Except for a few instances where the questioning veered off into Comey's disputed handing of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, the focus was on Trump. And there have been only a few similar moments in history where a sitting president was exposed to such scathing congressional testimony from a respected public servant.
While Comey stated emphatically he had no doubt at all that the Russians tried to influence the election, Trump was watching the unfolding drama in the White House dining room with his legal teams and close advisers. Though associates had said he might use Twitter during the hearing, his account remained silent.
After the hearing, Trump’s private lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, insisted Comey's testimony buttressed the president's contention that "he was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference." He proclaimed Trump had been vindicated, and also focused on Comey's admission that he gave copies of his Trump conversation memo to a Columbia University law professor to distribute to the media in the hopes of prompting the appointment of a special counsel.
Kasowitz called Comey's actions "retaliatory."
"It is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications," he said. "Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers." He suggested that federal authorities determine whether Comey's leaks should be investigated.