James Comey’s description of Trump akin to a Mafia Don

James Comey’s attitude before Congress today

Today, former FBI Director James Comey gave his anxiously-awaited testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence since Donald Trump fired him in May. Comey’s testimony, including his written statement that was released yesterday, was stunning in several respects, from the circumstances of his firing, to the Mafia-like treatment Comey says  Trump gave him regarding the ongoing investigation of former Trump National Security Advisor (and Trump presidential campaign official) Michael Flynn over Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials. Even people who were hyping Comey’s upcoming testimony in advance were perhaps surprised at some of what Comey said about Trump, including that Trump is lying about several Trump/Russia matters.

On Comey’s firing — Comey said that “the shifting explanations” for his firing “confused me and increasingly concerned me.” Comey was referring to the White House initial explanation that Comey was fired for his actions regarding Hillary Clinton seven months earlier, followed just one day later by Donald Trump’s admission to Lester Holt of NBC News that Russia was on his mind when he fired Comey. Trump’s prior conversations with Comey about the FBI’s investigation into Russia interference in the U.S. elections were the main topic of today’s hearing. Comey added that:

The administration then chose to defame me, and more importantly, the FBI, by saying that the organization was in disarray. That it was poorly led. That the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.

On Russian interference — Comey said there is “no fuzz on the fact” that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, with “active measures” coming from their government since at least late summer 2015. To Sen. Angus King, Comey added: “It’s a long term practice, although it stepped up a notch in 2016. They’ll be back.”

On Trump’s loyalty request — Comey said to Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner that, at a January 27, 2017 dinner with Trump, Trump was trying to “get something” in return for Comey keeping his job, and that Trump asked Comey for his “loyalty.” FBI Directors are sworn to uphold the Constitution, and they have a single 10-year term separate from presidential elections in order to be independent from pledging “loyalty” to a particular president. When Sen. King asked if Trump’s explanation to NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey asked for the dinner to ask Trump to stay on as FBI Director was accurate, Comey said “no.”

On Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Comey — This is the fateful February 14, 2017 Oval Office meeting. According to Comey, Trump kicked everybody, including Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor, and other officials, out of the Oval Office to have this conversation. Comey stated that Trump told him, referring to the FBI’s Flynn investigation, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Republicans maintain that Trump did not “order” or “direct” Comey to drop the Flynn criminal investigation. However, as Comey replied to GOP Sen. James Risch at the hearing: “I took it as a direction.” Comey likewise told Sen. Ron Wyden, his impression was that “the president of the United States wants this to go away.” Comey agreed with Sen. King that Trump’s request was equivalent to King Henry II asking his top officials about his nemesis, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” (Becket was killed the next day). Comey told Sen. Diane Feinstein that he was “so stunned” by Trump’s request that he was unable to tell Trump on the spot that the request was inappropriate and would be ignored. Moreover, Comey subsequently asked Attorney General Sessions to be present whenever Comey was to meet with Trump in the future. Sen. Kamala Harris said that, in her experience as a prosecutor, “when a robber held a gun to somebody’s head and said, ‘I hope you will give me your wallet,’ the word ‘hope’ was not the most operative word at that moment.”

On Trump being investigated — Republican Senators at the hearing, as well as other Trump defenders, kept harping on the fact that Trump wasn’t personally being investigated at the time of the events in question. Comey said, however, that “in theory” the investigation could have eventually touched Trump, because it already involved his top campaign officials and their contacts with the Russians, including whether such contacts amounted to collusion to interfere with U.S. elections in order to help Trump get elected. Moreover, Comey said he was “sure” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating whether Trump obstructed justice in his dealings with Comey. In any event, whether Trump was being investigated before is largely irrelevant when the principal issue at today’s hearing was whether Trump obstructed justice regarding the investigation of someone else, i.e., Trump’s former National Security Advisor and campaign advisor Michael Flynn.

After today’s hearing ended, Trump’s personal New York lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, appeared at the National Press Club to offer a defense of Trump. Kasowitz attacked Comey for giving his memos of his Trump conversations to a friend, a Columbia University Law School professor, to read to the New York Times. However, it is not illegal to share non-classified information, and of course, such material from former government officials fills many shelves in the Politics, Biography and Memoir sections of bookstores, as well as many minutes of airtime on TV news networks.

Photo by Mike Licht, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/8GNw8o

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