On Thursday, with the whole world watching, James Comey prayed aloud:
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” he told a crowded Senate hearing room, the whole world watching live on every news channel, and, perhaps the Lord, if you’re up there.
Comey’s prayer, of course, was for secret tapes that would contain a verbatim record of his Oval Office conversation with President Trump over a private White House dinner for the two.
Lordy, I hope so too. Either the former FBI director or the current POTUS is lying (or maybe both). The tapes might settle it.
When asked later in the day, White House spokester Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had “no idea” whether there is a taping system in the White House, and, when pressed to inquire further into the matter, offered to “try to look under the couches.”
Seriously, how is that sarcasm helpful to anyone or anything.
Until such tapes are produced, we have one and a half accounts of what was said over dinner that night.
Comey’s account — which he offered live on TV all morning and into the afternoon to the Senate Intelligence Committee — is that Trump asked him several times for his loyalty; implied that a welcome act of loyalty would be to drop the investigation into the undisclosed Russia ties of his former national security advisor, which the president said would remove a “cloud” over the presidency; and gave Comey the distinct impression (short of an explicit threat) that Trump would very likely fire him if he didn’t take the hint.
To be clear, neither man claims that Trump explicitly threatened to fire him.
But Comey, as you may have heard, didn’t take the hint and was fired, so summarily that he found out about it by watching TV. According to Comey, the conversation over dinner with the current incumbent was sufficiently unsettling that, right after he left the White House, he typed out his recollections of it on a laptop, for the record. In fact, Comey had developed a habit of typing up his immediate recollection after all interactions with Trump.
He told the committee today that he did this, basically, because he considers Trump a liar and wanted to be in a position to defend himself with the most accurate possible record of what passed between himself and Trump.
In the absence of a covert taping system, those notes may be the best record we have of what occurred. The other version, which I called a half-version above, was given by the president himself, on May 11, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. A couple of days after firing Comey, Trump told Holt of the dinner, which he claimed Comey had requested, even though he also claimed that Comey told him at the dinner that he, the president, was not personally under investigation in the inquiry into Russian interference in the last election.
Despite that happy news (and Comey has confirmed that he did tell Trump that he was not at that time a target of the Russia investigation), Trump said he fired Comey because Comey was “a showboat.” If there’s anything Donald Trump can’t tolerate, it’s a showboat.
So one thing that’s not in dispute is that Trump fired Comey. Nor is it disputed whether Trump had that authority. The FBI director, unlike other federal officials, is appointed for a 10-year term. That was set up that way to grant the head of such a key law enforcement agency extra independence — independence beyond loyalty to the president. Still, although the 10-year-term law was intended to discourage presidents from treating FBI directors as personal vassals, Trump had the authority to fire Comey for any reason before the end of his ten-year tenure. The 10-year term is one of those “norm” things, that can’t be enforced but is supposed to encourage proper behavior.
Comey, by the way, despite serving under two other presidents, seldom met with either of them and didn’t feel the need to create real-time notes when he did. After his early experiences with Trump, he adopted the habit of immediately memorializing his encounters with the POTUS in writing because he believed it reasonably likely that Trump would later lie about the meetings.
As you have probably learned previously, Comey said that Trump asked him to drop the investigation into fired National Security Advisor Flynn, but didn’t explicitly order him to do so. “I hope you can let this go,” Trump said, according to Comey’s notes.
One of the committee members, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) suggested that this is not the same as ordering Comey to do something improper. “He did not order or direct you” to drop the Flynn case, Risch said. Can it be a crime to express a “hope” that someone will do something, without directing that it be done?
“I took it as a direction,” Comey replied. He also said that, although he was still in the middle of his 10-year term, and loved his job, and wanted to keep it, and had told Trump previously that he hoped to stay on, he definitely had the impression that a threat was in the air to fire him if he didn’t “let this go.” He also understood that his commitment to impartially lead the agency would be jeopardized if he allowed Trump to tell him whom to investigate based on whether the boss thought the person was a good guy.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal,) asked Comey directly why he believed he was fired. Comey replied that he concluded it was because he was refusing to take the clue that Trump wanted him to end the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and the possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign, including Flynn.
Later, in an exchange with Sen. Jack Reed (D- R.I.) expanded on that at some length, thus:
“There’s no doubt — it’s a fair judgment, it’s my judgment — that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal, and not just because it involves me. The nature of the FBI, and the nature of its work, requires that it not be the subject of political consideration…”
When Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) asked Comey flatly whether he believed Trump had colluded with Russia to influence the election. Comey replied: “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting.” The committee was scheduled to meet with Comey privately later in the day, and Cotton said he would ask the question again then.
In general, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s members rose to the occasion yesterday. Showboating was at a minimum. Many Republican members asked tough, fair questions and (with few exceptions) didn’t seem to be circling the wagons around the president. It would be great if they can keep that up.
Trump observed Twitter silence throughout the hearing. It would be great if he could keep that up too. He did dispatch his personal lawyer to read a statement that added little and seemed mostly to deny things that had not been asserted.
Finally, just to guard against my own bias, I decided I would provide you with Sean Hannity’s take on the day’s events. I just took down the opening rant. Said Hannity:
This is a Fox News alert.
The former FBI director James Comey’s testimony is a huge victory for Donald Trump today and a massive defeat for the Democrats and, of course, the propaganda media.
There are also some legal experts who say that James Comey may have broken the law.
The truth, and the biggest takeaways … from today’s hearing, this is information you will not get anywhere else in the media; Here’s what we learned today from James Comey’s testimony:
The president of the United States never obstructed justice. In fact, the president actually encouraged FBI Director Comey to go forward with any and all investigations on any campaign associates and involvement with Russia.
James Comey confirmed several times that the president and the White House did not — let me say it again — did not ask him to stop the Russia investigation.
Comey also said several times that President Trump was not ever under investigation, which, by the way, why did he only say this today? Why couldn’t the FBI director have come out sooner?
We also learned today that James Comey was selectively leaking information to try and damage the president. What so called champion of law and justice would ever do that to the president of the United States?
Now, of course, the Destroy-Trump Media and the Democrats, they were all proven to be completely wrong about their ‘Russia collusion’ theories and they’ve been lying to you, the American People, for almost 10 months. The biggest news today was the indictment of the Obama administration and former Attorney General Loretta lynch.
Comey admitted that Lynch was able to pressure him into toning down his own language when speaking about Hillary Clinton’s email investigation. Wow.