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Alex Brandon / AP

Fired FBI Director James Comey appeared in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify about his interactions with President Trump as they relate to the federal government's Russia probe — and there's been some significant revelations thus far.

A big thing: Comey refused to state whether he believed that President Trump's request to shut down the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn amounted to obstruction of justice — saying it was a question for the investigation's special counsel Bob Mueller — but he called it "a very disturbing thing, very concerning."

Another big thing: After his firing and this Trump tweet, Comey asked a close friend of his — Columbia law professor Daniel Richman — to leak the content of his memos to the media with the hope of triggering the appointment of a special counsel.

I took it as a direction…I took it as what he wants me to do. Comey on Trump's "hope" that he'd shut down the Flynn investigation

Why Comey wanted to testify:

  • "The explanations, the shifting explanations [for his firing], confused me — and increasingly concerned me."
  • "It confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation."
  • "The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI."

Why Comey wrote his memos:

  • "I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting and I thought it important to document."
  • Comey wrote them in an unclassified manner to make them "easier to discuss" across government. He added, "I remember thinking, 'This is a very disturbing development, very important to our work, I need to document it.'"
Why Comey was concerned about Trump's behavior:
  • "My common sense told me that he's looking to get something in exchange for my request to stay in the job."
  • When Trump requested the Flynn shutdown: "Why would you kick everyone out of the Oval Office?"
Comey's reaction to idea Trump may have tapes:
  • "I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
  • "The president surely knows if he taped me. If he did, my feelings won't be hurt. Release all the tapes. I'm good with it."
The status of the investigation:
  • Comey confirmed that Trump himself was not under investigation while he was FBI director.
  • Did Trump collude with Russia? "That's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting." Comey added that he meant nothing "nefarious" with that statement, simply that he's been out of government for a month.
Other key takeaways:
  • On not shutting down Trump's Flynn request: "Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in."
  • On AG Sessions: Comey stated that he believed Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation eventually because the FBI was "aware of facts" that he "can't disclose in an open setting."
  • The Steele dossier: Comey refused to state in the open session whether any aspects of the Steele dossier had been verified.
  • On former AG Loretta Lynch's push to tone down the rhetoric surrounding the Clinton email investigation, Comey said, "The attorney general was looking to align campaign language with our language, which... gave me a queasy feeling."
  • Comey's message to his former colleagues at the FBI: "I am so sorry that I didn't get the opportunity to say goodbye to you properly."

For a quick recap of Comey's hearing, sign up for Axios PM, a free daily newsletter from Mike Allen. 1-click signup here.

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

7 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.