Written by Steven Spear, Jr.
Edited by Morgan DeLisle
In his highly anticipated testimony, former FBI Director James Comey appeared before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, June 8th. Trump detractors had high hopes for this testimony:
maybe Comey could show some hidden connection to Vladmir Putin’s Russia; maybe Comey could explain how Trump firing him was an attempt at stopping the FBI’s investigation in to the Trump campaign; maybe Comey would provide evidence that could provide reasons to charge the President with obstruction of justice; maybe Comey could shed light on.
None of that happened.
Despite being given many leading questions by Democrats, Comey did not lambaste Trump, and his answers were measured and genuine. He was not bitter or vengeful at Trump for firing him, though Comey believes the President’s actions crossed a line.
In the nearly three hour testimony, there were three important questions that help us to understand the relationship and nature of the meetings between Comey and Trump. However, to the chagrin of some, obstruction of justice is nowhere close to being proven.
Three Important Questions
1. From Susan Collin (R-ME): Why did you start taking notes on meetings with Trump?
Comey responded, “The circumstances—I was alone with the President-Elect of the United States.; the subject matter—I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the President-Elect; the nature of the person—I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document. That combination of things, I’d never experienced before, but it led me to believe I’ve got to write it down, and I’ve got to write it down in a very detailed way.”
Comey served as Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005) and was appointed to be the FBI Director by Obama in 2013. He explained that the combination of the circumstances, subject matter, and the nature of the person was something that he had not felt when working with either Bush or Obama. So recording his conversations was a natural step to protect himself.
Being surprisingly bold, Comey essentially called Trump a liar. His goal obviously was not to inspire confidence in the President’s leadership.
2. From Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): Why didn’t you say, “Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you?”
Comey responded, “Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in. I remember saying ‘I agree he’s a good guy’ as a way of saying I’m not agreeing with what you asked me to do.”
He struggled here. Comey likely tried to make himself vulnerable and relatable to everyone watching in order to repair his reputation, but this was definitely a weak answer.
Many Republicans have used this same line of questioning to criticize Comey. If Comey felt uneasy enough to take notes on his meetings, why not speak up and tell the President that he is crossing an ethical (and potentially legal) boundary? It’s a valid question to which Comey seems unable to give a satisfactory answer.
3. From Martin Heinrich (D-NM): Who should we believe?
Comey responded, “I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony. You got to take it all together. And I’ve tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate. A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the chief of staff out, to talk to me, if it was about something else? And so that—that, to me, is—as an investigator, is a very significant fact.”
This is a “Comey said/Trump said” situation. Unless there are tapes of their conversations, as a Trump tweet suggests, there is no way to prove Comey’s notes. And with no proof, it is unproductive to talk about impeaching Trump for obstruction of justice.
Obstruction of justice remains unproven
In an exchange with James Risch (R-ID), Comey defended his belief that the President used the words “I hope” as a directive rather than a relaying of his sentiments:
“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.” —Trump to Comey in the Oval Office on February 14, 2017
Comey went on to make clear that Trump never directly ordered him to drop the Flynn investigation or to make the outcome favorable to Flynn. Comey said, “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.”
Kamala Harris (D-CA) opened her questioning with a short statement in reference to the exchange between Risch and Comey: “In my experience of prosecuting cases, when a robber held a gun to somebody’s head, and — and said, “I hope you will give me your wallet,” the word “hope” was not the most operative word at that moment.”
Going by Harris’ example: Trump was holding a gun to Comey’s head “hoping” that he would ensure a favorable outcome in the Flynn investigation. Harris clearly does not support Trump and interprets his actions as an illegal intervention into an FBI investigation.
In another exchange, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked, “Why do you believe that you were fired?”
Comey responded, “I take the president at his word, that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt, created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”
I fully expected Comey to cast doubt on Trump’s reasoning for firing him. Earlier in the hearing, Comey said he felt the need to take notes of their meetings because he felt the President may lie about what was said. So why does Comey take Trump’s word in this scenario? He doesn’t know of any reason to believe otherwise: Anyone watching the hearing will admit that Comey was not there to make a circus out of his firing. He did not unfairly accuse Trump of anything, and his goal was certainly not to undermine Trump’s presidency. Comey was incredibly hesitant to give his opinion unless it was based on facts, and he stood strong against the speculative questions asked by some Democratic Senators.
As of now, there’s really no evidence that President Trump has obstructed justice. Thinking about public information, what we have is a rookie politician who has done something that suspiciously looks like obstruction of justice. But I urge you not to reach a conclusion yet: keep waiting. And keep watching.
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