Key Points of James Comey’s Senate Testimony

Hello all,

The long awaited event has come and passed: James Comey, the beleaguered former FBI director, gave his voluntary testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For the benefit of those who did not have three uninterrupted hours to devote to their televisions, I will summarize the main points below.

  • In his capacity as FBI director, James Comey met or spoke privately with Donald Trump–as President-Elect, and then as President–a total of nine times in a period of six months. In contrast, in his years of service under the previous administration, Mr. Comey met privately with President Obama only twice.
  • Contradicting one of President Trump’s prior statements, Comey said that he did not initiate any of these contacts.
  • In one of these meetings, President Trump asked repeatedly for Mr. Comey’s promised “loyalty,” a commitment Comey refused to make. In his mind, this request constituted an attempt to form a “patronage relationship.”
  • Comey began producing memos of his meetings with President Trump from their first one-on-one conversation, because he was “honestly concerned that [Trump] might lie” about the content. He did not make a habit of constructing memos about his conversations with President Obama.
  • Following one of these conversations, Comey asked Jeff Sessions to ensure he and President Trump did not speak alone again– to act, as is his duty as Attorney General, as the appropriate go-between that is meant to exist between the President and the FBI Director.
  • At the time of Comey’s conversations with Trump, he was not, in fact, under direct investigation for colluding with Russia. However, Comey stated today that he is “sure” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was now investigating the President for obstruction of justice.
  • The subject of at least one of these one-on-one conversations was Michael Flynn– how he was a “good guy,” and how the President “hoped [Comey] could find a way to let [the investigation into Flynn] go.” While this was phrased as a general statement, Comey understood it to be a directive based on the power dynamics in play. He did not, however, say that he felt he was being threatened with termination.
  • Comey was not aware of any recording of these conversations, but consented to– and even invited– their release, if they do exist. He also consented to the release of his memos, both to Robert Muller and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • When President Trump tweeted about having “tapes,” Comey felt the need to ensure his side of the story was heard. In that moment, he sent the memos to a friend–a professor at Columbia University– and asked him to share them with the press. He did, which resulted in the bombshell New York Times article on the subject. Many on the right are taking this as an issue of “leaking,” however, as General James Clapper elucidated several weeks back, if the information shared is not classified, it cannot be a leak. There was no classified information in the Comey memos.
  • Without mincing words, Comey testified that President Trump’s comments regarding the Bureau being in “disarray” and having lost confidence in its director were “lies, plain and simple.” He further accused the President of defaming both his character, and that of the FBI.
  • The former FBI director admitted some “confusion” about the reason for his termination, but stated that he took the President “at his word” that he was fired in order to relieve the pressure that the Russian investigation was placing on the President’s office.
  • Unequivocally, Comey was able to state that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the United States Presidential Election– a point that President Trump never expressed concern about in his many conversations with the FBI Director.
  • When asked whether he believed President Trump had colluded with Russian officials in their election interference, Mr. Comey refused to answer in open session. (Naturally, this evokes a fair amount of speculation, because if the answer was “no,” it would not be classified and could therefore be shared.)

There were, of course, other points that could be made. There was the rather odd sidebar about Comey’s lack of confidence in Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ability to remain neutral in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails– one would definitely question the relevance, let alone the evidence for this, which was justified only with an apparent meeting between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac, and Lynch’s request that the investigation be described as “a matter” in discussions with the press.

In a similar vein, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used his seven minutes of questioning to go off on a winding, disorganized tangent about the investigation into Secretary Clinton; he later explained that he was hoping to impress upon Comey the hypocrisy of his willingness to speculate about the state of the Clinton investigation but not behave similarly in regards to Trump. If that was his goal, he went a long way around the barn without ever reaching his destination.

Finally, in light of yesterday’s events where Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) was silenced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for written confirmation that Robert Mueller would have full independence in his capacity as special counsel, I feel she deserves special recognition here. She spent the seven minutes she had to question Mr. Comey asking the questions that all of us wanted answered. Most, sadly, were not answered in open session, but she did prod Comey into saying that he believed Mueller should “absolutely” have complete independence in his duties.

Naturally, the republican camp dissented against most of this, with Donald Trump Jr. calling Comey’s testimony “BS,” and the President’s private attorney stating that Trump felt “vindicated,” and emphasized the parts of the testimony most convenient to his client while dismissing the rest. Standard operating procedure, really.

That’s all for today, folks. Until next time…

— This is the ALF, signing off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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James Comey: You’re Fired… Now What?

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” — United States Declaration of Independence

Folks, the time might be near at hand. Today, following a second day of testimony by former Attorney General Sally Yates, Donald Trump saw fit to fire now-former FBI Director James Comey. Why? Purportedly, because James Comey acted inappropriately in revealing the details of the investigation into Huma Abedin’s email server weeks before the election, and because of his mendacious testimony about that server, saying yesterday that Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband–the infamous Anthony Weiner– in her roll as Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff. The number, in fact, is not more than a “handful.” There are two major points here: first, Trump had praised Comey’s decision to release this information about the Abedin investigation from the point of his election, through the inauguration and beyond. It is not as though Trump recently became aware of this choice, or had denounced it all along. Along similar lines, the ongoing investigation into whether Comey’s actions violated the law is not nearly complete– it is, in fact, not expected to be complete until the end of the year (MSNBC). Thus, this is neither the beginning of this investigation, nor the end. It certainly seems strange that Trump would fire an FBI Director for taking actions that he praised, before an investigation into his actions had concluded. Second, James Comey, for all of his well-known faults, is a man who has been known throughout his career for his precision in testimony. “A handful” of emails is nowhere near thousands, and there is absolutely no way that James Comey did not know the real number as the Director of the FBI entering Congress to testify– not for the first time– on his decision to release that information and the Trump/ Russia connection. And, let’s all be honest– there is very little chance that he mistook “a handful” for thousands– a man known for evasiveness in testimony would simply have answered with “no comment” if the number had escaped him. While perjury is a crime in itself, this thought process leads to a more disturbing conclusion: James Comey lied, on purpose. And today, he was fired—and certainly not for the reasons stated, because any thinking human is capable of seeing that Trump did not fire Comey because Comey handed him an advantage in the election. So then, why? The logical progression of these events is that Comey, who had helped Trump in the election and engaged in a partisan witch hunt against Hillary Clinton against the mandate of his office, has been working with the President for some time. So today, when Trump asked him to fall on the sword so that he could nominate a new Director who would be more willing to stretch the boundaries of the law, he did. This is, of course, speculation, but as the expression goes, “if the shoe fits…”

Let’s not forget, James Comey was due back in session to testify further on Thursday—a testimony that has now been cancelled. And now, Trump will be able to appoint a new director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who will take over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. If precedent holds, the appointee will be grossly underqualified, and probably have Russian ties of his own. Then—assuming the nominee is approved by the Senate, the new FBI Director will have access to absolutely everything pertaining to the Trump/Russia investigation, and the authority to make decisions about how, or if, that investigation proceeds. It is not an exaggeration to say that if Trump is successful in appointing an inside man to this position, he will have effectively placed himself beyond the reach of the law. This cannot be allowed to occur.

Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) called these circumstances “a constitutional crisis worse than [Watergate].” He is not wrong. This is the time to demand an independent special prosecutor to continue this investigation, prior to the appointment of a new director—at which point there is a very reasonable fear that evidence, and the investigation itself will be destroyed. If Congress allows such a nominee to take control of the FBI, we have lost control of our country.

With this, it is time, I think, to organize a March for Impeachment. Do not get me wrong, I support and appreciate the efforts of the Women’s March, the March for Science, and all the various protests that have occurred since the election, however, the time for single-issue protest in this venue has come and passed. The very fiber of this nation is at risk and we the people, regardless of party and interest group affiliation, must stand up to defend it, and demand that those who allege to represent us defend it as well. If not, we may soon be faced with the very real choice of living under the control of a government that operates outside of the laws on which it was founded, or attempting to follow the suggestion of our Founding Fathers.

I am sure that there will be plenty more to talk about in the coming days, but until then: stay informed, stay alert, and stay safe.

House Intelligence Committee: Public Testimony on Russian Interference Day 1

Well, well, well. I just managed to get the settings on this blog configured in time for an incredibly slow news day… 😉

Right. Now that you all have passed the sarcasm test, today was an absurd day in United States politics. It was a split-screen full-day circus, with the House Intelligence Committee beginning their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election and the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning their confirmation hearings for the Honorable Neil Gorsuch, nominee to the United States Supreme Court. If that scheduling feels like a sleight of hand trick, that’s because it most likely is– to say nothing for the vote scheduled on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) later in the week.

While the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch will become incredibly relevant tomorrow and throughout the week, today’s nearly five hours of opening statements were not particularly newsworthy as compared to the concurrent processes in the House Intelligence Committee, so that will be our focus for this evening.

FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers sat before the Committee in nearly six hours of testimony covering Russian hacking and interference, intelligence leaks, the Trump campaign and administration, and the President’s inflammatory claim that President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump tower during his candidacy.

To begin at the end, so to speak, both Comey and Rogers made clear that neither the FBI nor the NSA had uncovered any evidence to suggest that President Obama had ordered any unlawful surveillance of Trump Towers or the then President-elect. James Comey continued, saying he had also been authorized by the Department of Justice to say that none of their offices had any evidence to substantiate the claim either. This conclusive answer to what seemed an obvious question from the start–at least to anyone with even a moderate working knowledge of the rigorous standards that preclude FISA warrants– comes after everyone from Paul Ryan, house majority leader, to Mitch McConnell, senate majority leader, to myriad democrats and republicans alike denying–or at least failing to support–the claim over the past number of days. Thus, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the apparent entirety of the United States Intelligence community all agree that such surveillance did not occur. The only parties who remain unconvinced are those in the White House. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer once again defended the claim today following the testimony of Comey and Rogers on the matter, insisting that there still may be more to the story. Meanwhile, the rest of us are more than ready to close the book on this one– other than to say that the President of the United States using the power of his office to knowingly defame the character of another public figure seems to violate the “faithfully execute the Office of the President” part of the Oath of Office, and certainly qualifies as a civil tort, but ultimately the pursuit of this is nothing more than a distraction in light of the real information presented in Committee today.

The story of the House Intelligent Committee today may as well have been A Tale of Two Cities: on the one hand, Democratic members focused in on the story of Russian interference in the election process and any possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign and administration, while on the other, Republicans focused their lines of questioning on leaks emerging from the intelligence committee. Briefly– leaks are a very real problem, and have the potential to endanger national security if not addressed. That said, Russian interference in our democratic process is a real and already existing threat to National Security, and should be acknowledged as the main priority.

The biggest story of the day happened fairly early on in Committee: James Comey stated unequivocally that Russia “engaged in a multifaceted campaign of active measures to undermine our democracy in order to hurt [Clinton] and help [Trump].” He stopped just short of referring to this multifaceted campaign as an “act of war,” but that did not prevent several democratic representatives from using the phrase. Comey also confirmed that the FBI is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” This confirmation came after Comey reiterated that the FBI generally does not comment on ongoing investigations except in “rare circumstances” where it is “in the public interest.” (The irony of this following his willingness to discuss what was already known to be an inconclusive investigation into Huma Abedien’s server days before the election cannot be ignored, but at least he found a shred of consistency.) Later, when pressed by Peter King, (R-NY2) Comey also declined an opportunity to deny that there was existing evidence of collusion–while instructing the Committee and viewers alike not to read into a statement that clearly came with a whole shipping crate full of subtext– and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH2) was able to get him to admit that in order to begin such an investigation into President Trump as the FBI is conducting, there would need to be a “credible allegation” or “reasonable basis” for such a probe.

Finally, to add a shred of humor on top of what was, generally speaking, an incredibly victorious day for the resistance… Donald Trump was, naturally, tweeting about the Committee hearings through his usual “alternative-fact” lens. A few hours into the testimony, the President tweeted from his official @POTUS account:

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Following a recess, Representative Jim Hines (D-CT4) made the brilliant decision to ask Comey and Rogers whether the tweet represented an accurate account of their earlier statements–note that the attached video, while unaltered, is cut off before several significant qualifying statements from the two aforementioned men. They diplomatically, but unequivocally agreed that the tweet was “not quite right,” and clarified that they did not “have any information on the subject [of potential collusion between the Trump administration and Russia].” While I generally find the President’s tweets to be abhorrent, they certainly provided an ample opportunity for some real-time fact checking and message clarification today– something desperately needed in a day and age where every word is twisted into a false and self-aggrandizing narrative designed to benefit the White House.

The real questions now are:

  1. What further information will emerge in classified sessions of the Committee and in the course of this investigation, and what consequences will emerge from such information?
  2. Should the government continue with business as usual, including the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch, in the face of testimony that the President of the United States and his cabinet are under investigation for potentially colluding with a foreign power to undermine the sanctity of our democracy?
  3. And, how will President Trump and his apologists spin a live testimony? It becomes difficult to claim “fake news” when the entire country is watching a firsthand account.

It seems, finally, that there may be more answers than questions on the horizon. Until then– stay tuned, keep your eyes open, and keep resisting.

This is the ALF, signing off.