Thursday was widely anticipated. Former FBI Director James Comey was going to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. His testimony overshadowed the appointment of his replacement.
After it was all said and done, I believe no one came away a winner.
1. James Comey
This testimony hurt no one more than it hurt the former director himself. Comey revealed that he was the source of his leaked memos. He did this, he said, to prompt the appointment of a special prosecutor.
(T)he president tweeted on Friday, after I got fired, that I better hope there’s not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape.
And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
He leaked his memos about his conservations with President Donald Trump, but I find it odd he did not do the same when approached by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. This selective leaking has the appearance of retribution as a result of being terminated from his position.
President Trump asked him about Michael Flynn, which troubled him, but he did not provide feedback to the President or Department of Justice leadership about that concern.
In his written testimony Comey said:
When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.
The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information – a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
When asked about why he didn’t address his concern by U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) he said this:
It’s a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in. And the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind, because I could remember every word he said — I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that’s why I very carefully chose the words.
And, look, I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I — I remember saying, “I agree he’s a good guy,” as a way of saying, “I’m not agreeing with what you just asked me to do.”
Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that — that was — that’s how I conducted myself. I hope I’ll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better.
If this was such a concern why not say something before getting fired? There’s so much about his response to this that doesn’t make sense.
Then, the idea that President Trump was directing him to end the investigation into Mike Flynn was based on his perception, not what President Trump said.
2. Liberals (and Some Never Trumpers)
Many liberals and some Never Trumpers (those who the sentiment goes beyond the election) hoped for the revelation of some impeachable offense. It didn’t happen. However, they did learn that President Trump never was under FBI investigation. He did not direct Comey to end the Russian investigation or even the investigation into Mike Flynn.
Consider this exchange Comey had with U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID):
RISCH: I want to drill right down, as my time is limited, to the most recent dust-up regarding allegations that the president of the United States obstructed justice. And, boy, you nailed this down on page 5, paragraph 3. You put this in quotes — words matter.
You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There’s 28 words there that are in quotes, and it says, quote, “I hope” — this is the president speaking — “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Now those are his exact words, is that correct?
RISCH: And you wrote them here, and you put them in quotes?
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go.
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go.
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: He said, “I hope.” Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases charging people with criminal offenses. And, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there that — where people have been charged.
Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where this — they said, or thought, they hoped for an outcome?
COMEY: I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, “I hope” this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.
COMEY: Now I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.
RISCH: You — you may have taken it as a direction, but that’s not what he said.
COMEY: Correct. I — that’s why…
RISCH: He said — he said, “I hope.”
COMEY: Those are exact words, correct.
RISCH: OK, do you – you don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: I don’t, as I sit here.
Also, I’ve seen accusations about the results of the 2016 election by those who have not been able to accept the results. Russia “hacked” the election!
There isn’t any indication that is the case as you can see in this exchange Comey had with U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
BURR: Are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered?
COMEY: I’m confident. By the time — when I left as director, I had seen no indication of that whatsoever.
Burr drilled down on the Russia investigation.
BURR: Director Comey, did the president at any time ask you to stop the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections?
COMEY: Not to my understanding, no.
BURR: Did any individual working for this administration, including the Justice Department, ask you to stop the Russian investigation?
BURR: Director, when the president requested that you, and I quote, “let Flynn go,” General Flynn had an unreported contact with the Russians, which is an offense. And if press accounts are right, there might have been discrepancies between facts and his FBI testimony.
In your estimation, was General Flynn, at that time, in serious legal jeopardy? And in addition to that, do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice, or just seek for a way for Mike Flynn to save face, given he had already been fired?
COMEY: General Flynn, at that point in time, was in legal jeopardy. There was an open FBI criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the Russian contacts and the contacts themselves. And so that was my assessment at the time.
I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense.
Comey revealed no impeachable offense.
3. The Mainstream Media
The mainstream media, in particular, the New York Times looked foolish. From Senator Risch’s exchange with Comey we learned:
RISCH: On — I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?
COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance…
COMEY: … communications. Yes, sir.
RISCH: And — and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether — whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?
COMEY: That’s correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But…
RISCH: I — I’m — I’m not going to any further than that with it.
RISCH: So thank you.
In addition to that, after that, you sought out both Republican and Democrat senators to tell them that, hey, I don’t know where this is coming from, but this is not the — this is not factual. Do you recall that?
RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don’t. The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on.
And those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it. And we don’t call the press to say, hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic. We just have to leave it there.
I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can’t go explaining how it’s nonsense.
The exchange above is why I take thinly sourced articles with unnamed sources with a grain of salt. The media in their effort to get a scoop with this President have gotten it wrong, and generally, are not talking to people who know all the facts.
4. Obama Administration/Loretta Lynch
We also learned former Attorney General Loretta Lynch injected politics into the criminal investigation into classified documents and emails on former Secretary of State, then presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton’s private servers.
Senator Jim Lankford (R-OK) asked for additional details about that:
LANKFORD: And then you made a comment earlier about the attorney general — previous attorney general — asking you about the investigation on the Clinton e-mails, saying that you’d been asked not to call it an “investigation” anymore, but to call it a “matter.”
And you had said that confused you. Can you give us additional details on that?
COMEY: Well, it concerned me, because we were at the point where we had refused to confirm the existence, as we typically do, of an investigation, for months, and it was getting to a place where that looked silly, because the campaigns were talking about interacting with the FBI in the course of our work.
The — the Clinton campaign, at the time, was using all kind of euphemisms — security review, matters, things like that, for what was going on. We were getting to a place where the attorney general and I were both going to have to testify and talk publicly about. And I wanted to know, was she going to authorize us to confirm we had an investigation?
And she said, yes, but don’t call it that, call it a matter. And I said, why would I do that? And she said, just call it a matter.
And, again, you look back in hindsight, you think should I have resisted harder? I just said, all right, it isn’t worth — this isn’t a hill worth dying on and so I just said, OK, the press is going to completely ignore it. And that’s what happened.
When I said, we have opened a matter, they all reported the FBI has an investigation open. And so that concerned me because that language tracked the way the campaign was talking about FBI’s work and that’s concerning.
LANKFORD: It gave the impression that the campaign was somehow using the same language as the FBI, because you were handed the campaign language and told to be able to use the campaign language…
COMEY: Yeah — and — and again, I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate.
We had a criminal investigation open with — as I said before, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We had an investigation open at the time, and so that gave me a queasy feeling.
5. Republicans on the Committee/Republican National Committee/Trump Apologists
Not one Republican Senator on the committee appeared to be troubled by President Trump’s conversations with Comey, only that they did not rise to the level of obstruction. They also did not seem troubled that President Trump would expect loyalty from the FBI.
I found it surreal that the Republican National Committee sent out anti-Comey talking points to supporters to note every mistake they believed Comey had made. Comey is not a political candidate. He was a public servant who was the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who enjoyed bipartisan support before the 2016 election.
Also, numerous Trump apologists believe that Comey should be jailed for leaking his own memos… Read that again – his own memos – that were not classified. Get a grip, folks. Also, those who seem to believe Trump doesn’t have any credibility issues and that he wins hands down in a credibility contest with Comey live in an alternate universe. This is not because I think Comey is such a stand-up guy (see above), but because of Trump’s track record. He is truth averse.
6. President Donald Trump
I’m sure die-hard Trump apologists will disagree, but President Trump did not look exemplary after yesterday’s testimony. It could have been a lot worse, however, but I just believe that he has PR and political challenges, not legal problems.
Unless one believes James Comey is a liar, and I don’t, I have no reason to believe that he is. Trump did two things that I think look bad from a PR/political standpoint.
First, he indicated that he wanted a loyal FBI director. Congress changed the law so the FBI Director had one 10-year term so he or she could maintain some independence. Yes, any President can fire an FBI director for any reason, but generally speaking, it is better for the FBI to maintain public trust if the President does not expect loyalty from the FBI director.
Second, President Trump should not have brought up Mike Flynn. In fact, it is best if he keeps contact with the FBI director to a minimum. It just looks wrong. He could have avoided this whole mess by not raising the issue with Comey.