In spite of his leaked opening statement a day before the proceedings that could be described as wholly benign, former FBI Director James Comey came out swinging this morning as he addressed the Congressional assembly.
In his opening monolog, Comey admitted:
“it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned, again, from the media that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation.
I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn’t make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn’t make any sense to me.
And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, 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, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.”
Ouch. That had to leave a mark.
While the questions and answers during the grilling were, for the most part, respectful, yet probing, no “smoking gun” of collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice regarding the investigation were revealed. Not surprising. Donald Trump hasn’t become the ruthless business mogul by neglecting to leverage intimidation with total regard in avoiding prosecution.
The most damaging allegations involved Comey’s interpretation of Trump’s statement that he “hoped” Comey would drop the investigation into fired National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn. Comey admitted feeling so “stunned” by Trump’s action to dismiss every other witness to their conversation and his repeated pleas to drop the investigation that he committed to memory every word for documentation. He confessed that he had never felt this degree of doubt and intimidation with either President George W. Bush or President Obama.
Several times during questioning, James Comey declined to answer based on his lack of specific knowledge, or deference to the ongoing investigation under current FBI Director Robert Mueller. He promised to reveal more details in a closed session.
All in all, Comey appeared brutally honest, even at the point of deprecating himself by admitting cowardice in the face of intimidation by President Trump in the private meeting where the President asked for Comey’s “loyalty”. In response to criticism by Republicans for failing to recommend an indictment for Hillary Clinton’s private server crimes, Comey admitted that he had been pressured by then Attorney General Loretta Lynch:
“Probably the only other consideration that I guess I can talk about in an open setting is that at one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me. But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, ‘I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly…’ We had a criminal investigation open at the time, so that gave me a queasy feeling.”
It is not openly known to what extent that further testimony to Congress behind closed doors will reveal any criminality on the part of the new President. House Speaker Paul Ryan excused President Trump’s bad behavior by stating, “He’s new to government. And so he probably isn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between the D.O.J., F.B.I. and the White Houses.” Isn’t that why Republicans elected him? Because he’s “not a politician”? I guess they got what they wanted.
Democrats will crow over the allegations while Trump will crow even more loudly over his vindication. In the meantime, Americans feel the sting of this whiplash.
This debacle did substantiate the tyrannical tendencies of an egotistical demagogue that expects oaths of “loyalty” from his subjects unless they want to face unpleasant consequences.