The Republican chairmen of the House judiciary and oversight committees have released transcripts of the former FBI director James Comey’s testimony at Friday’s closed-door hearing.
The lawmakers said the transcripts covered the first of what was expected to be two days of hearings with Comey, who was fired by Donald Trump in May 2017. He was due to appear again on 17 December.
The transcript was released as part of a deal reached after Comey attempted to quash a subpoena ordering him to testify in private, expressing concern such testimony would be selectively leaked.
The hearing lasted nearly seven hours and the transcript, released on Saturday, ran to 235 pages. Afterwards, Comey described a “desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president”.
Also on Friday, filings by federal prosecutors and special counsel Robert Mueller revealed new findings in the cases of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, former aides to Trump.
The filings detailed links between the two men and Russia and, in Cohen’s case, payments to women claiming to have had affairs with the billionaire.
Mueller took over the Department of Justice investigation of Russian election interference, links between Trump aides and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the US president after Comey was fired.
Trump told NBC he fired Comey because of “this Russia thing”, then contradicted himself. Comey has testified publicly on Capitol Hill and detailed his interactions with Trump in a book, A Higher Loyalty, that was published in April.
Comey told reporters on Friday Republicans on the two committees had been “talking again about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sakes”.
He led the FBI investigation of Clinton’s use of personal email and a private server while secretary of state. The FBI recommended against criminal charges. The impact on the 2016 election of Comey’s public announcements remains hotly debated.
Trump responded to Friday’s hearing by tweeting: “It is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!”
As reporters pored over the transcript on Saturday, seemingly bizarre exchanges emerged.
In the very first exchange, about text messages between two now former FBI staffers, which Republicans have said portray anti-Trump bias, the oversight chairman, Trey Gowdy, quoted a message about the margin an agent said Clinton “should win by” and asked: “In the course of human history, has anyone won an election 100 million to zero, to your knowledge?”
Comey replied: “I don’t mean to be facetious. I can’t speak to Stalin’s re-election or Mao Tse-tung re-election campaigns.”
Gowdy said: “100 million to zero is a lot.”
“Sure,” said Comey. “I’m not trying to be facetious, but I remember as a student the vote in Soviet Russia was 99.9% to …”
Interrupting, Gowdy said: “We are going to get to Russia in a little bit. We’ll get to Russia in a little bit.”
Democrats will take over the House, and with it control of its committees, in January. Sixty pages into Friday’s hearing, New York congressman and the likely judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler raised a striking claim made by Trump about Comey’s relationship with Mueller, his predecessor as FBI director.
“On 5 September,” Nadler said, “President Trump brought up special counsel Mueller in an interview with the Daily Caller, stating: ‘And he’s Comey’s best friend, and I could give you a hundred pictures of him and Comey hugging and kissing each other. You know he’s Comey’s best friend.’”
Nadler asked: “Are you best friends with Robert Mueller?”
Comey replied that though he admired “the heck out of the man”, he did not know his phone number or the names of his children.
“I think I had a meal once alone with him in a restaurant,” he said. “I like him … I’m an associate of his who admires him greatly. We’re not friends in any social sense.”
Nadler said he would not “ask whether you’ve ever hugged and kissed him”.
“A relief to my wife,” Comey said.