James Comey condemns White House 'lies' and says Donald Trump fired him over probe in Russian connections
FORMER FBI director James Comey has told a congressional hearing that Donald Trump fired him to interfere with his investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign, accusing the White House of spreading "lies, plain and simple".
He also revealed he had orchestrated the public release of information about his private conversations with the president in an effort to further the investigation.
Mr Comey's evidence, at a hugely anticipated hearing, provided a gripping account of his interactions with Mr Trump and underscored the deep distrust that soured their relationship before his stunning firing last month.
In occasionally explosive statements, he portrayed Mr Trump as a chief executive dismissive of the FBI's independence and made clear that he interpreted Mr Trump's request to end an investigation into his former national security adviser as an order from the president.
He expressed confidence that the circumstances of his firing, and Mr Trump's overall behaviour towards him, could be investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice, but he declined to offer an opinion on whether it met the threshold.
"It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Mr Comey said towards the end of more than two hours of evidence to the Senate intelligence committee.
"I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavour was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
"That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me."
At one point he practically dared Mr Trump to release any recordings of their conversations, a prospect president once alluded to in a tweet.
"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Mr Comey said, suggesting such evidence would back up his account over the president's.
The hearing was Mr Comey's first public appearance since his sudden May 9 firing and it brought Washington and other parts of the country to a standstill as Americans sat glued to their screens, harkening back to the Watergate congressional hearings that held the nation rapt four decades earlier.
Republicans mindful of the gravity of the moment worked feverishly to lessen any damage from the hearing.
They tried to undermine Mr Comey's credibility by issuing press releases and even ads pointing to a past instance when the FBI had to clean up the director's evidence to Congress.
In his opening statement, Mr Comey sombrely accused the Trump administration of spreading "lies, plain and simple" in the aftermath of his abrupt removal, declaring that the administration "chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI" by claiming the bureau was in disorder.