It was the moment that everyone had been waiting for. Bars throughout D.C. were packed to the gills long before the hearing began. Lines went around the block by 9 am. Not only did no one want to miss a second of the much anticipated drama, most of the capital’s pubs had promised a free drink for every presidential tweet during the main event.
Everyone went home with either a lighter wallet or a parched gullet. President Trump didn’t tweet once.
The former director of the FBI was fired, somewhat unceremoniously, by president Trump about a month ago.
Since then he has been letting the world know that…
The president’s demeanor made him uncomfortable
The president demanded that he pledge his loyalty to him as if he were the king
The president made allusions to the fact that he wanted the Flynn investigation dropped
The president demanded to know if he was the subject of any investigation
The president insisted that these conversations be carried on in private and shooed everyone out of the room so that he could have Comey all to himself.
Comey’s level of his concern forced him to take copious notes after every encounter with the president
Those notes were leaked and all of Washington wanted to hear the inside skinny
The tone of the event was set from the instant it began. James Comey was seated at an enormous and rather regal desk. He remained utterly still and stone faced as the chair and ranking member of the senate intelligence committee read their opening statements.
Burr, the republican chairman, thanked Comey for coming in and praised him for his years of service. His stated objective was to get to the bottom of the Russian interference issues and see if there was any evidence of obstruction of justice.
Warner, the democratic ranking member, instead offered a lengthy soliloquy on the many suspected sins of Donald Trump. He was quite certain that a golden nugget of evidence was about to come his way.
Comey decided not to read the opening statement that was strangely sent to the press on Wednesday. Instead, he opted for a more dramatic recitation. While he claimed to be confused and concerned about having been fired, he was clearly livid. He made a point of saying that he expected to have a ten-year position as the constitution suggests. Naturally, he elaborated on the need for an independent FBI director who would be free of political ties.
We found that amusing.
He angrily announced that not only had the president defamed him with lies but far worse, he had defamed that fine institution known as the FBI. Then he delivered his maudlin apologies to both the FBI and the American people for the terrible deception perpetrated by the president. Be thankful that you missed it.
The tenor of the questioning was decidedly partisan. Democrats were hot on the trail of presidential obstruction of justice while republicans were more interested in a bigger picture. They wanted to know specifically what took place in the meetings between Trump and Comey. They also wanted to know if Comey had been equally diligent about his notations when dealing with anyone other than Trump.
He had not. He exclusively made notes about this president due to his tremendous discomfort, in addition to his fear that Trump would lie.
Comey’s entire testimony was devoted to thinly veiled and not so thinly veiled implications of unseemly behavior on the part of the president and members of the administration. As usual, it was punctuated with self-aggrandizing statements and repeated expressions of false humility, like ” I could be wrong”. The intention was obviously to preserve his carefully crafted image of a modest guy just trying to do the right thing while he slung mud into the public forum.
When asked if he ever expressed his concerns about the inappropriate nature of the president’s communications with him, he said no. He added that he just hadn’t been strong enough.
We were far less amused by that remark. In fact, to quote Comey, we were mildly nauseated.
He was also asked if he had reported his discomfort to anyone. Again he said that he had not.
He specifically did not report it to Jeff Sessions because he had reason to believe that Sessions would be forced to recuse himself from all investigations related to Russia very soon. It was an odd remark that was left to hang in the air. Democrats have largely understood it to mean that the FBI has some incriminating information about the attorney general. Republicans are expressing suspicions that Comey set Sessions up.
Private meetings are rare but if Comey had been that uncomfortable, he could have spoken up. That point was made repeatedly. Comey claimed that he was just too cowardly to stand up to the president, a rather disturbing remark from the head of the FBI.
He told the committee that on three separate occasions that he did indeed tell the president that he was not a target of the Russian investigation and did so voluntarily.
He reported the president had expressed his hope that Comey could see his way clear to letting the Flynn investigation go. When assessing criminal culpability, the expression of a hope or wish does not constitute behavior that rises to the level of a crime.
Comey even admitted that he had not been pressured to drop the case. He refused to admit that there was no evidence of obstruction. Suddenly, he didn’t feel qualified to make that call because he’s not a legal expert. The guy has been serving in the highest ranks of the justice system for the bulk of his career, to suggest that he’s too naive to recognize obstruction of justice is insultingly deceitful.
Then things got interesting.
After having been fired, Comey saw a Trump tweet about tapes of their private conversation. He mulled it over for a few days and then woke up in the middle of the night with an epiphany.
He needed to get his notes ” into the public square” before Trump could lie about him… oops, the FBI.
He decided to leak the notes to the press.” For a variety of reasons” he couldn’t do it himself. He enlisted the help of his good friend, a professor at Columbia law school, who called the Times.
He seemed to be awfully proud of that stunt. He even bragged that he did it with the goal of forcing the appointment of a special prosecutor. That very week, he got his wish and conveniently the independent investigator happens to be his longtime friend.
It was a straightforward act of revenge. It was also not the work of a novice. When asked if he was responsible for other leaks, Comey demurred. He has previously denied responsibility for any press leaks in testimony before congress. That doesn’t quite ring true at this point.
The initial leak about his private dinner with the president preceded Trump’s tape tweet. Additionally, fact checkers have associated at least 10 other previous anti Trump leaks with Comey.
Although the former FBI director thought his little plan terribly clever, he may soon find himself facing his own legal battles. The notes weren’t his to give. They became government property the instant he wrote them.
Curiously, the Trump notes were the only notes that Comey had taken on any major public officials during his career. He wasn’t so troubled by the fact that Loretta Lynch ordered him to downplay the Clinton investigation that he turned scribe. She actually insisted that he only refer to the Clinton investigation as a “matter”. He says that when he started to ask why she snapped at him and repeated the order. Perhaps Mr. Comey responds better to a strong woman.
Thursday’s hearing revealed information that will inevitably be manipulated to support the cases of either side of the aisle. CNN and MSNBC are already celebrating the evidence of obstruction of justice while Fox News is rolling its collective group of eyes at the lack of any such thing. This entire episode will continue to play out over the next few months. Fortunately, Mueller has just announced his plans to have the whole thing wrapped up by the end of the summer.