Comey Lands Punches, But No Knockout Blow

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) speaks in Ypilanti Township, Michigan March 15, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Kevin Lamarque/File Photos

June 09, 2017

Now that was a day full of news. First the much-anticipated testimony of former FBI director James Comey in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dealings with US Pres. Donald Trump. And then later in the day the unanticipated flop of Teresa Mays’ conservative government in the British election.

My family was getting angry at me for spending so much time in front of a screen.

Let us focus, however, on Mr. Comey’s testimony. How you responded to what he said had a great deal to do with your own particular political persuasion.

Democrats celebrated when Comey called Trump “a liar,” and laid the groundwork for a possible obstruction of justice charge with the revelation of his one-on-one meeting with Trump, when he was asked to “let go” of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russians.

Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republicans, on the other hand, rejoiced at the fact that Comey confirmed that he had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation, and that Comey said former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch had asked him to fuzz the description of an investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server. Republicans also rejoiced when Comey seemingly outed himself as a leaker.

The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in between.

One of the most important questions is, who is lying – James Comey or Donald Trump? Tthey both can’t be telling the truth.

Comey testified under oath that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty if he wanted to keep his job, and that in a later meeting asked him to let go of the investigation into Flynn.

Trump’s private lawyer, in a statement that one that television commentator compared to a “goat rodeo”, denied that Trump said these things.

My money is with Comey, not because he is anymore likable than Donald Trump, but Trump has a record of falsehoods and misstatements going back decades. Comey testified under oath. And if anybody understands the penalties of lying under oath, it’s the former director of the FBI.

Most Americans share my view that Comey is more believable, according to public opinion polls – something like 70 per cent, according to the latest Pew poll.

There is something for everyone in the rest of the testimony. Allow me to enumerate.

  1. The fact that Trump made everyone, including the Atty. Gen., the VP, his Chief-of-Staff, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, leave the Oval Office before he spoke to Comey about the Flynn investigation, does not look good for the president. Even the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee commented on this occurrence. You don’t ask everyone to leave the room if you’re going to request an innocent favor from a high-ranking government official. This will be a problem for Trump.
  2. The private dinner that Trump had with Comey, where he asked Comey to pledge in his loyalty, falls into the same category. It just should not have been done. Some Republicans and Trump sycophants are trying to portray this as naïveté on Trump’s part. Which is fine, but ignorance of the law is no defense. To go back to the question of truthfulness, this is where the meticulous notes that Comey took after each of his meetings with the president give him the strong upper hand. It’s long been practice in criminal cases, for instance, that notes of a meeting or conversation made immediately after it occurred can be used as evidence.
  3. The news that Comey, after reading Pres. Trump’s tweet about possible tapes of their meeting, decided to leak news of those notes to the New York Times via a friend is not a plus for the former FBI director. He was careful in his testimony to say that he had not leaked anything of a confidential nature, and he has had a history in the past of selectively releasing information to the media that cleared him of any involvement in other damaging events. Comey is the consummate Washington insider, and he knows how the game is played. Republicans and Trump supporters will try to make hay from this news, but there is no illegality here. Comey is a private citizen and he is free to do what he wants with these notes, especially considering Trump had already tweeted about these events, undermining any chance of claiming executive privilege. The question, however, of how this will play in the public, is different. This looks too cute by half, and for a man who has spent much of his career decrying leakers and the damage that they do, you can bet that past statements will be used against Comey.
  4. There were two other people who did not do well yesterday: current Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch. Comey’s testimony about why Sessions recused himself from anything involving Russia and the Trump campaign created more questions than answers. It led to speculation that the current Atty. Gen.’s past involvement with Russian diplomats or agents was more complicated than previously understood. Like former Gen. Michael Flynn, Sessions could be in for a world of hurt. And the surprise news that Loretta Lynch had asked Comey to fudge his description of the investigation into possible misuse by Hillary Clinton and her staff of her private email server hurts Clinton’s complaint that Comey cost her election. It also shows why former Pres. Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Lynch on a private jet was so disastrous for the Clinton campaign. Combined with Lynch’s request to fudge the description of the investigation, it provides Comey with more than enough reason to justify taking the controversial steps that he did.
  5. The Russians are coming! And they mean business. If there was a non-political moment that stood out in Thursday’s testimony by Comey, it was his insistence that the Russians did try to undermine the United States election and its electoral system, and that they will continue to do so. And that this is a real threat to the United States. (This also gave Comey a chance to take another shot at Trump, by pointing out that for all his concern about his friend Mike Flynn, Trump never once asked about how the Russians had digitally attacked the United States and any possible future threats.) And this is a point that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Count on it getting a lot more exposure in the coming months.

In the end, Comey’s testimony hurt Trump, but it did not destroy him. There is certainly not enough here to impeach Trump. It did show that former FBI director, and now special prosecutor, Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with the Russians is now the only game in town.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

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Watch the video of Comey’s appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on the Senate site.

Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,  James B. Comey June 8, 2017



Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

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