Comey Testifies: The Key Takeaways

Comey Testifies: The Key Takeaways

By JACOB HICKS | June 8, 2017

WASHINGTON — Billed as a potential turning point for the Trump presidency, today’s hearing was one of the year’s most widely-anticipated political events, with live coverage from every major network of the former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s testimony.  While it may not have been the earth-shattering event many Democrats had hoped for, it was nevertheless a masterful display by Comey, reinforcing his reputation as an honest, impartial actor.  It also provided some level of insight about what the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee might hear in their closed-door hearing with Comey.  Here are some highlights:

Trump walks away mostly unscathed:

President Trump’s reputation may have taken a hit today, but the former director stopped short of accusing the president of obstruction of justice.  Comey’s testimony made clear that he considered the president’s request to “let go” of the Flynn investigation to be an order, while also elucidating those at the hearing that the president himself was not under direct investigation; only his campaign was being looked into at the time.  Comey was unequivocal in his claim that the president’s actions were unprecedented and inappropriate, but said that the interpretation was best left to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Comey’s testimony also emphasized the unprecedented frequency of communication he had with President Trump; nine communications over the span of five months, compared to two over three years under President Obama.  Comey also made clear that he was distrustful of Trump, feeling compelled to document his meetings and conversations in a series of memos. Comey believed the president had fired him over the Russia investigation, as the president later stated publicly.  This is in direct contrast to the White House’s initial rationale that both they and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a whole were no longer confident in Comey’s leadership.  While Comey did not make any groundbreaking accusations against the president, he undoubtedly damaged the president’s reputation.  Of course, much to the dismay of Democrats, this hit to Trump’s reputation will be nowhere near enough to make congressional Republicans consider impeachment.

Comey directly challenges a number of media reports about classified information:

There have been a number of media reports about potential contacts between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government as well as reports regarding the workings of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.  Without many specifics, the former director said that much of the media’s reporting was “dead wrong.”  Comey specifically called out two stories as misleading or false, including a story claiming that emails faked by the Russians played a role into his decision to publicly announce the results of the Clinton investigation.  Additionally, Sen. Cotton (R-AR) asked Mr. Comey if a story alleging repeated contacts between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government was “almost entirely wrong”, to which Comey replied a simple “yes.”

Mr. Comey protected his reputation and presented an image of himself as an impartial, non-political actor:

In his testimony, Comey was everything the public might expect of a Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, well-spoken and crisply dressed. He gave clear explanations for his actions and the rationale behind the decisions he made in his interactions with Trump. It was telling that many senators began their questioning by stopping to compliment Comey’s integrity and dedication to the United States.  Despite his firing and the still-present controversy over his handling of the Clinton email investigation, Comey’s reputation remains largely intact.  The one crack in this image was the revelation that Comey directed a friend to send the contents of notes from a meeting with Trump to the media.  This was apparently done to push back against Trump’s characterization of the meeting, as well as to prompt the appointment of a Special Counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.  This action displayed that while Comey presents himself as apolitical, he is certainly unafraid to engage in political maneuvers on occasion.

Comey forcefully defended the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

The former director worked not only to protect his own reputation, but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He apologized to his former colleagues for leaving without giving them a proper goodbye.  Furthermore, he argued passionately against the White House assertion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was in disarray. “Those were lies, plain and simple”, said Comey regarding the president’s description of the culture and morale of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He painted an image of an impartial, strong Federal Bureau of Investigation and assured the American people that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was firmly committed to their protection and to the Constitution, saying “The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong and the FBI is and always will be independent."

Comey hinted at an additional reason why Attorney General Sessions had to recuse himself:

One of the most interesting moments came when Senator Wyden (D-OR) questioned the reasoning behind not discussing the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions. In Comey’s response, one line stands out: “We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”  This may be a reference to a rumored second meeting between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Kislyak, or some other matter that could spell trouble for the Attorney General.  Sessions was forced to recuse himself from Russia-related matters earlier this year after it was revealed he had failed to report a meeting with Kislyak.  Unfortunately, at this point there is no way to know exactly what Comey meant in saying this.

Russian involvement in the 2016 election was part of an active, long-term strategy to interfere in American democracy:

Comey gave a strong message of unity against Russian involvement in our elections, calling for bipartisanship and arguing that the Russians were attempting to undermine American credibility worldwide, saying “We remain that shining city on the hill and they don’t like it.”  He was unequivocal in his testimony regarding the basics of Russian involvement and stated without a doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election, was behind the hacking of the DNC and DCCC, and was responsible for intrusions in state voter polls.  Comey stated that he did not see any evidence votes were altered, but told the Senators present that the Russian hacking was part of a long-term strategy. Comey left the Senators with an ominous warning regarding the Russian hackers: “they will be back.”

*Editor's Note: A full transcript of former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s testimony can be read on Politico.com.

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