James Comey

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Comey Testimony Transfixes
Capital and Nation

| published June 8, 2017 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

In a day of much-anticipated testimony before Congress, former FBI Director James Comey—fired by President Donald Trump in early May—described how he became suspicious of the President’s intentions during several key conversations after Trump took office in January.

Comey told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee he took the extreme precaution of making detailed notes on the conversations between the two men, often using his laptop to log copious and exacting recounting of not just the words used, but the tone, mood, and potential intentions of the President—especially in the context of a widening probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections in the U.S.

That expanding investigation, which is now being conducted by an independent counsel but still using an ever-widening team of Justice Department employees and FBI agents, has now inched perilously close to the inner circles of the White House.

Comey’s testimony comes just one day after several top officials, including the current FBI Director and the current Director of National Intelligence, declined to offer much insight into the Russia-Trump probe, even when asked directly by U.S. Senators for information which might shed light on the inner workings of alleged efforts by the White House to misdirect or downplay the investigation.

The former FBI director’s testimony also comes only days after newly leaked NSA documents show that several key federal agencies—among them the NSA, the CIA and FBI—had as early as January concluded that Russian hacking was far more widespread and penetrative than originally suspected, and that the attempted cyber-breaches reached into nearly every U.S. state and into the voting and registration operations in thousands of counties.

In his dramatic question and answer session with legislators—which were watched from coast-to-coast in the United States in what may have been the largest TV audience for daytime government hearings in decades—Comey described his “queasiness” at persistent questioning by Trump regarding whether Mr. Trump was at any time (or currently) a specific target of the FBI’s investigations into the Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

When Senators pressed him on the depth and breadth of the Russian hacking, as well as Moscow’s attempts to interfere in the elections, Comey made it clear that efforts to downplay such interference—as in Trump’s repeated claims that charges of Russian meddling are based on “fake news” and part of a “hoax”—are misguided and dangerous. Comey characterized the facts of Moscow’s hacking as “about as unfake as you can get.”

“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever,” Comey told Senators, “the Russians interfered in our elections during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts, and it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There should be no fuzz on that.”

When pressed on the question, Comey made it clear he does not believe that the matter of Russian interference is a matter closely related to either Republicans or Democrats or independents.

“This is about America, not any particular political party,” Comey added.

Comey told Senators that he was so concerned that the White House would spin falsehoods about his meetings that he took the extra step of preparing immediate, detailed notes , resulting in full scale memos on each meeting. Comey said he began the practice in January out of concern that the President might later tell a different version of events.

“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meetings,” Comey explained, “so I felt I had to write it down [each time].” The former FBI Director also detailed how he used his secure FBI laptop to prepare a synopsis of each encounter. Comey said after several initial meetings with the President in January and February, he made the decision that he should not meet again with the President alone, and that requests from the White House come by way of the Department of Justice first—an effort, Comey hoped—to place a reasonable buffer between himself and Mr. Trump.

Comey also had blunt words regarding his firing by President Trump, and by the stories spun almost immediately by the White House suggesting that Comey was incompetent and that the FBI was in “chaos” and “disarray” under Comey’s guidance.

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said, stressing that it was even more painful for him to see the good name of the FBI disparaged and trashed by President Trump and the press people at the White House. Comey said that before his firing, Trump had repeatedly said the Director was doing a good job, so he became deeply concerned when the official White House position turned—literally overnight—into a story of an agency in disarray and an investigatory process based on incompetence.

Senators angled repeatedly to shed brighter light on former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s relationship with both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and several Senators—Republicans and Democrats—sought to get confirmation from Comey that he thought the President engaged in obstruction of justice by urging Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Comey said he took the President’s words “let this go” to mean that the President was explicitly requesting that probes into Flynn be dropped. Though Comey did not drop the investigations into Flynn, he told Senators he was deeply concerned that the President had requested that others—incuding Attorney General Jeff Sessions—exit the Oval Office immediately prior to Trump’s private request to Comey regarding Flynn.

Why did he kick everyone out of the Oval Office?” Comey asked rhetorically, “that, to me as an investigator, is a very significant fact.”

As for the President’s Twitter comments about taped conversations between Trump and Comey, Comey said he welcomes the release and dissemination of any such recordings, and stresses that such tapes will support his (Comey’s) version of events.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said.

One significant matter which seemed to go in the direction the White House had hoped: Comey confirmed that at no time was the President—or then President-elect Trump—ever the subject personally of the Russia investigations.

But Comey amplified this by explaining that some within the FBI’s upper echelons warned Comey that Trump himself could eventually “fall within the scope” of the Russia-Election-Hacking probes. Comey therefore took what he said was the exceedingly prudent step of not offering assurances that Mr. Trump would not at some point experience the heat of investigation. When Senators sought to link Comey’s refusal to offer Trump a blanket assurance to Trump’s decision to fire Comey, the former FBI director declined to take the bait.

Comey also dodged the question—repeated many times by many Senators—of whether the former director believes that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. Comey politely suggested that such questions are now in the hands of the new independent counsel, Robert Mueller, now at the helm of the investigation.

After the hearings were completed, numerous news agencies also sought clarity of the question of obstruction of justice, but legal experts and law scholars are divided.

Only a few hours after Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, held a press conference blasting Comey for inconsistencies and lies, and telling reporters that much of what Comey said in fact vindicated what Mr. Trump has been saying all along.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Leaked Russian Documents: Russian Hacking Was More Serious; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; June 6, 2017.

Comey Dismissal Sparks Outrage in Congress; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; May 10, 2017.