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.