James Comey’s testimony (aka Comey testimony) before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed no new bombshells, nor smoking gun. In fact, his testimony did not alter the course of the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 Election or into potential obstruction of justice by President Trump. It only added color to and filled in blanks of what we already knew.
However, the Comey testimony did produce some new questions and things that are worth noting. So, here’s a bullet point list (in no particular order):
- “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” This was one of the top quotes from the Comey testimony. It seemed like an impromptu “aww shucks” style of speaking, but it was a shrewd and premeditated move. The goal of saying this, as well as subsequent references by Comey to tapes, was to embolden congress to subpoena any and all tapes or recordings President Trump may or may not have of his interactions with Comey. Should they not exist, it will embarrass the President, but if they do exist, he will need to hand them over. Comey is a shrewd operator that is playing 3D chess while many others are playing checkers. Don’t believe me? Look at how Comey skillfully orchestrated his appearance before the Senate. The Comey testimony came about because he had a friend leak the content of a contemporaneous memo about Trump asking him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, which caused both the House and the Senate to ask him to appear before them.
- Comey’s opening statement, which was released the day before his testimony, stated that President Trump did not specifically order him to drop the investigation, but instead said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Senator James Risch (R-ID) stated that the President saying “hope” was not an order and that nobody had been convicted for saying it. However, this is false. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed in 2008 that saying hope can be construed as direction.
- After his February 14, 2017 Oval Office meeting, Comey told Attorney General Sessions that he did not want to have one-on-one interaction with President Trump, as he felt it would be inappropriate. Despite this, Comey admits to having at least two further one-on-one encounters with the President. They each were telephone calls from Trump to Comey on March 30 and April 11 of this year. While some have defended Comey noting the logic of picking up your phone when your boss calls, it is not applicable in this case. Comey repeatedly stressed how alarmed and concerned he was with Trump’s behavior when only the two of them interacted. He still must explain why he did not try to bring a third party onto these calls and/or continued to accept them.
- The defenses mounted by Republicans and Trump are vastly different. The President, his administration and his personal lawyer have all insisted the former Director Comey lied in his testimony — essentially, accusing him of perjury. According to Trump, Comey repeatedly lied, especially about the “let this go” comment, as well as the President’s request Comey pledge his loyalty. Yet, no Republican has followed Trump and his team in repeating this line of defense. The GOP response has been one of not denying or poking holes in anything that Comey stated. Instead, they are focusing on stating that Trump is a neophyte to politics and unfamiliar to proper protocol. Their argument can be boiled down to saying that while Comey’s version of events happened (granted, they are not commenting on whether or not Trump attempted to obstruct justice), Trump was guilty, but not responsible.
- The one thing that all sides can agree on is that President Trump did engage in obstruction. As Comey revealed in his testimony, the famous dinner on January 27, 2017 where Trump asked Comey for his loyalty, caused him to break a date with his wife. (Alright, I admit this is a bad joke point.)
The Comey testimony comes in the middle of the first act of a five act play. We know that what happens next does not come from Comey, but from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. It is he who will decide whether or not to file charges, finds no wrongdoing, or, a scenario that is not being discussed, kicks responsibility for action to Congress.
As Comey’s part in this play ends and he exits stage left, Robert Mueller now takes center stage. All signs point to Mueller running a serious and thorough investigation, as he is staffing up with top criminal law experts, including people who understand obstruction of justice. Now, we await Mueller’s next move.