What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?
There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.
- In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
- Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.
The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.
That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.
Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:
- Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
- Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue
There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration?
- To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
- While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)
A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.
Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he
◆ Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)
◆ Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive
- Comey simply said what he now thinks
“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”
Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)
◆ Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election
Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post
- Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
- He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
- And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)
◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.
- At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure
◆ Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room.
- Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)
◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn
- His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
- Mueller might have done that anyway
- It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer
◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.
- These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
- He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
- Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
- Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.
◆ Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission
◆ Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”
- Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
- Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
- Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
- This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.
The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight
◆ Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:
The logic is this:
- A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
- Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
- He succeeds
- The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment
It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon