Thursday, June 08, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Comey Testimony

Today, former FBI Director James Comey will testify in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,  which is investigating Russia's involvement in the presidential election. It's a big deal in DC, and it should be-- this is an important moment.

Yesterday, Comey released written testimony. This isn't unusual; I have testified in front of a Congressional committee (lots of people have, including IPLawGuy) and did the same thing.  You can read that written testimony here

There were some fascinating passages in the written testimony. What intrigued me the most was this:

The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.

It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.
The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not "reliable" in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

A few moments later, the President said, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner. At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because "problems" come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." I paused, and then said, "You will get that from me." As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase "honest loyalty" differently, but I decided it wouldn't be productive to push it further. The term -- honest loyalty -- had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

Nothing in Comey's written testimony, on its face, will probably lead to impeachment. With a Republican Congress, probably nothing will. Yet, the expectation Trump had of personal loyalty is deeply troubling, given the investigation that the FBI was conducting at that time.

What do you think?


Trump is really just incapable of getting out of his own way. But for testimony about Trump leaning on Comey to conclude the Flynn investigation, the headlines from today's hearing would be: "Comey Confirms White House Claim that Trump Not Being Investigated for Russia Collusion" (more or less). Instead, the new scandal is whether the president expressing his "hopes" for the outcome of the Flynn investigation constitutes obstruction. Whether it does or not, there was no reason for Trump to pressure Comey in the first place. Surely Trump understood that Comey would fall on his sword before he tethered himself to Trump. And Trump already knew that he was not a direct target of the Flynn/Russia counterintelligence investigation.

So while we've dispensed somewhat with the grand scandal that a hostile foreign power conspired directly with Trump to get him elected, we've got a scandal all the same. And one purely of Trump's own making--the product of toxic hubris and utter incompetence. If you gave the man a gun he would immediately shoot himself in the foot (then say it never happened, then say it was the Democrats, then say he did it on purpose and that it was the best shot ever made). Fool.
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