FORMER FBI DIRECTOR James Comey appears before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington.

FORMER FBI DIRECTOR James Comey appears before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday in Washington.

BRUNSWICK

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, reacted to revelations in James Comey’s testimony on Thursday, saying that President Donald Trump’s interactions with the then-FBI director were inappropriate.

“I think inappropriate is probably the right word,” King told reporters during a conference call.

King declined to call the president’s actions obstruction of justice, saying: “I’m going to leave that decision to the special counsel, to Mr. Mueller.”

Comey’s highly anticipated testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee comes just a month after he was unceremoniously fired by the president. The administration has given multiple reasons for that action, which Comey disputed in testimony, saying the administration was lying.

In testimony, Comey revealed that the president had asked him in private meetings to drop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn, a Trump campaign adviser who briefly served as National Security Adviser before contacts he made with Russian officials were made public. The president has also asked for the director’s loyalty, said Comey in testimony.

King’s exchange with Comey drew national headlines when the two made a historical comparison after Comey was asked whether he considered the president’s message that he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation as a directive.

“Yes. It rings in my ear as will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest.”

“I was just going to quote that, in 1170, December 29, Henry II said, who will rid me of the meddlesome priest, and the next day, he was killed,” King responded. “Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. We’re thinking along the same lines.”

King is the only independent senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and has been described by the Washington Post as “totally uncompromising in promoting the committee’s probe in the face of pressure from the FBI.”

“I think it is inappropriate for a president of the United States to have that kind of interaction with the head of the FBI, particularly in a situation where the FBI has an active investigation involving that person’s campaign for president,” King told reporters.

The White House denied Comey’s allegations in a statement after the hearings.

King said that the conflicting claims could be resolved with the release of tapes of those conversations by the White House, which Trump has suggested exist.

“Let’s hear them. Let’s see them. That would settle that question definitively,” he said.

King’s comments were similar to that of Maine’s senior Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, who told MSNBC on Thursday: “If the tapes exist, I believe the special counsel should have them and our committee should have them. After all, they’re two different investigations with two different purposes. Our investigation is a broad investigation into Russian attempts to influence the elections last fall — it’s a counterintelligence investigation.”

However, Collins — who also sits on the committee — also took Comey to task for leaking memos regarding the former director’s interaction with Trump before his testimony.

“I don’t think it was appropriate,” Collins told Meet the Press Daily. “I would argue that that was a government-produced document. It was a work document. And I think it qualifies as a leak. The irony is that the former director of the FBI has always been very annoyed when there are leaks. And then it turns out that he leaked a document himself.”

The committee’s questioning of Comey is part of a larger investigation into Russian attempts to interfere with U.S. elections.

“Our democracy was attacked by Russia, and they’re going to do it again,” said King during the conference call. “This was a sophisticated long-term strategic effort by the Russians to interfere with our elections.”

Following the investigation, King said that he hopes the committee can issue some recommendations on stopping Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections at the federal and state level. King had two preliminary steps states should take: States should always keep a paper backup of ballots, and election information should be kept offline.

“I think this is sort of the unpublicized piece of this that is very important,” said King. “We’re going to have to brace ourselves and be able to protect ourselves.”

According to the Associated Press, Comey faced little real hostility from the senators, and the hearing’s pace slowed under repetitive questioning. One humorous moment relieved the tension, when Comey explained to King that he had to break a date with his wife when Trump called him for a dinner at the White House.

“That’s one of the all-time great excuses to break a date with your wife,” King said.

JOHN SWINCONECK and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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