James Comey Testifies At Senate Hearing On Russian Interference In US Election
Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

This article originally appeared in TIME.

Former FBI Director James Comey spoke in public for the first time about his relationship with President Donald Trump and the circumstances that led to his firing, in the most hotly anticipated congressional testimony in years.

Comey did not read the seven-page statement he had prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, but offered opening remarks after he was sworn in under oath, saying that he was troubled by the Administration’s handling of his firing.

“Although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the Administration 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 confident in its leader,” Comey testified. “Those were lies, plain and simple.”

Comey maintained that the FBI will retain its independence. “The FBI is honest, the FBI is strong and the FBI is and always will be independent,” he said.

A long line to get into Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee had already formed outside the Capitol building early Thursday morning. Comey entered the chamber shortly after 10 a.m, and began his testimony after remarks from Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and ranking committee member, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

“Allegations have been swirling in the press for the last several weeks, and today is your opportunity to set the record straight,” Burr told Comey in his opening remarks.

In his testimony released by the intelligence committee Wednesday, Comey confirmed that Trump had asked him for “total loyalty” and requested that he drop any potential investigations into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

“The President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Comey said in the testimony, according to a prepared copy that was released Wednesday . “I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed.”

In the testimony, Comey also confirmed claims by Trump that he had told the President on three separate occasions he himself was not under investigation.

Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9. In a letter informing him of the decision, he cited the way he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year. But the firing immediately stoked outrage in both parties, and the rationale was greeted with widespread skepticism given Trump had praised Comey when Comey announced authorities were re-opening the Clinton email probe days before the election.

Comey had confirmed in March that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the presidential election. Trump had fired the person leading that investigation, and two days later, Trump himself acknowledged that the Russia investigation was a factor.

“In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” he told NBC News. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

Trump and his allies were painting Comey’s prepared testimony as vindication Wednesday evening given Comey’s confirmation that he told Trump he was not personally under investigation. But they made no mention of the fact that Comey’s testimony also confirms numerous explosive reports that Trump and his aides have either denied or downplayed.