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James Comey Senate appearance: How the blockbuster moment unfolded

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, on 8 June, 2017. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee

In Washington, political intrigue often serves as a substitute for oxygen.

Little surprise then, that the corridors of power were packed with people desperate for a seat to the hottest ticket in (this) town - the Senate appearance of James Comey.

Hundreds of mostly millennials, congressional staffers and interns, weaved around the hallways of the Senate's Hart building hoping to witness the former FBI director's testimony first hand.

The last time I'd seen a queue like this was when I walked past the line for a free One Direction concert in Los Angeles.

But unlike Hollywood, where the endings are annoyingly predictable, the unexpected plot twists in Washington politics made this a must-see moment.

What would James Comey say? What would this mean for President Trump? Is this going to be better than the new series of House of Cards?

Rebecca was one of the many congressional interns I'd met waiting to get in. The last time she'd queued this long for anything was to see a Harry Potter movie.

Judging by her place in line she had little chance of seeing it anywhere but on a television screen, even though she'd been here since 6am.

Others, like Senate staffers Samantha, Mitchell and Ben, who arrived at the Hart building at 4.15am and entered at 5am, secured prime touchline seats.

"It's history in the making. It will be good to get some clarity on what's happening," Samantha told me, adding that she didn't trust Trump or Comey.

Image copyright BBC/RajiniVaidyanathan
Image caption Many of those queuing to see James Comey's testimony were young Senate staffers

Room 216 has played host to dramatic moments of political theatre in its time, but nothing like this in living memory.

In front of the public seats in the wood-panelled room were rows of media tables. Ahead of that, seating for VIPs - although quite remarkably these, the best seats in the house, were not all filled. Almost an entire row was empty.

James Comey was to field questions seated at a table with his back to us spectators, as he faced the interrogating senators head-on. A place setting marking his name read "Director Comey".

In the moments before his arrival, the anticipation built up. I spotted reporters taking selfies in front of Mr Comey's table, as photographers with huge cameras jostled for space nearby.

Veteran New York Times photographer Doug Mills, who is no stranger to documenting historic moments, told me the stress level for everybody was "amped up".

"You never know what's going to happen," he said, "it could be enlightening, it could be a bore."

After the senators who would be doing the grilling took their seats, the frantic clicks of camera shutters could be heard.

James Comey entered the room. It was hard to miss him, given how tall he is.

He began by raising his right hand to take the oath of office, swearing to tell the truth, and nothing but.

As he sat down and began listening to and answering questions, I was struck by how composed he was.

James Comey seemed confident; he barely hesitated as he fielded questions from senators.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption James Comey spoke confidently and without notes
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Media captionComey: "Lordy I hope there are tapes"

One detail that surprised me the most was the absence of notes on the table in front of him.

This from a man who told the hearing he insisted on taking notes after every private meeting he had with President Trump.

And yet without any bullet points or prompts, he recounted his version of events in impeccable detail, barely stumbling over his words.

Image caption People arrived before 5am to queue up for a seat

His testimony was damning for the president on many occasions. When he first implied President Trump was a liar, sharp intakes of oxygen could be heard around the room.

Every time a newsworthy quote was uttered, the dozens of reporters seated at the tables tapped away furiously on their phones and laptops.

Another such moment was when Mr Comey said, unequivocally, that Russia was involved in trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Image caption Surrounded by photographers, Mr Comey stayed cool
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Comey left the day's proceedings as he arrived - unflustered

In a hearing which contained so many "wow" moments, there were also moments of levity.

Laughter rippled around the room after James Comey insisted it was President Trump who invited him to a private dinner, not the other way round, as Mr Trump has stated.

I had to "break a date" with my wife, Mr Comey said, wishing he had taken her out after all.

Even the senators managed a smile.

There were some challenging questions - but Mr Comey seemed unflustered by whatever was thrown at him.

As he left the room after taking questions for several hours without a break, I walked up to where he'd been sitting.

On the desk were two glasses of water - both practically full. During the entire hearing, he barely sipped on them.

Image copyright Rajini Vaidyanathan
Image caption Comey's barely-touched water glasses

Most people under that sort of pressure would have finished several bottles by this stage.

Mr Comey left the hearing, glass full in more ways than one.

In what has become a battle of two competing narratives, every word he said had to be delivered decisively.

After all, the other narrative comes from no less than the president of the United States.

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