On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey delivered testimony before Congress detailing his interactions with President Donald Trump regarding issues pertinent to the Russia investigation. The result can only be described as a damning indictment of Comey’s character and competence.
First and foremost, the former director was keenly aware for roughly five months that President Trump was not the subject of any investigative inquiry or criminal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Despite this, Comey never saw fit to reveal such information to the general public. The purported reasoning behind Comey’s silence is that he feared issuing such a pronouncement, lest circumstances change and Trump came under investigation; surely that would damage the president, Comey implied.
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Yet could such a reversal truly have been more damaging to the president than months of false information disparaging his character?
Since essentially the start of his presidency, Trump has been accused by opponents — unjustly and without evidence — of treason, collusion and obstruction of justice — no small matter on any account. Calls for impeachment and criminal proceedings have been levied against the president, and his ability to govern is being directly impeded.
A significant portion of these accusations could have been immediately dismissed by Comey had he taken a public stand. In this light, the purported excuse that he was simply looking out for the president’s best interests is not only unsatisfactory but downright unbelievable.
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Furthermore, many of the challenges Trump is facing as president are a direct result of intelligence leaks. Although the leakers have yet to be exposed, it seems plausible, judging by the content of the leaks, that FBI officials are implicated.
During his testimony, Comey acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of these leaks were false, in particular referencing a New York Times article from February which claimed that “direct contacts” existed between members of the administration and Russian officials.
Thus while Comey was refusing to take a stand on such matters, members of his own organization may have disseminated false information in a direct attempt to harm the president.
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As both the head of the FBI and as an individual operating under the authority of the chief executive, Comey had a duty to correct the record, a duty not just to the president but to the American people and the pursuit of justice — a duty which Comey failed to exercise.
If Comey actually took seriously the investigations for which he was responsible, not only would he have taken more robust steps toward clamping down on the defamatory, treasonous leaks originating within the intelligence community, but he would have taken personal responsibility for the rampant misconduct within his own bureau.
Finally, Comey’s careful record-keeping of his interactions with President Trump — in contrast to his interaction with previous officials under the Obama administration — displays an adversarial approach to the president, one which should have prompted his immediate resignation as a matter of principle.
Comey began preserving his interactions with the president, down to minutiae, following their first private meeting, a meeting Comey initiated on Jan. 6 to discuss a salacious and false dossier that was about to be released by the press. Comey assured Trump he was not under investigation, but it is unclear from the memo why he felt the need to record future conversations with the president.
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According to the former director, two additional meetings followed which prompted increased “concern.”
Comey alleges Trump sought his “loyalty” during their second private meeting on Jan. 27. As Comey describes it, he felt the meeting was an attempt by the president to establish a relationship based on patronage, yet that assertion is not borne out by the facts.
It is telling that Comey kept his job as FBI director after that dinner, despite informing Trump he was “not reliable” in the sense that politicians use the word, that he would remain impartial, and that he was not on anyone’s side politically. If Trump truly sought the former director to be his lackey, then why did he choose to keep Comey on board?
Comey alleges that during their third encounter on Feb. 14 Trump sought to end the investigation of Gen. Mike Flynn when the president expressed his belief that Flynn was “a good guy” and said he hoped Comey could “let [it] go.” These sentiments were not exclusively shared with Comey, however, and the next day President Trump characterized the investigation of Flynn as “a witch hunt.”
As Comey describes it, he did not take this comment to mean that the president wanted a general conclusion to the Russia investigation, but rather a specific end to the Flynn investigation.
Comey also acknowledged during testimony that he was not familiar enough with the president to make definitive statements regarding his intentions, but that his conclusions were “gut” reactions.
In neither instance did Comey report these “concerning” interactions to his superiors at the Department of Justice, as he was required to do under agency protocol.
Comey excused his improper handling of these events by claiming the former was a matter of “he said, he said” and that the latter pertained to the Russia investigation, citing the imminent recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in relation to the probe.
Aside from the fact that such reasoning is insufficient to justify his failure to report concerns of obstruction or presidential misconduct as a matter of law, Sessions did not recuse himself for nearly two weeks after the supposed conversations took place, ultimately negating Comey’s claim.
Comey’s only other substantive interaction with the president pertained to two occasions on which Comey informed Trump that he was not under any investigation in connection with Russia.
During one such conversation, Trump noted that while he hoped the investigation would extend faithfully to his “satellites,” he would appreciate it if Comey informed the public that he, Trump, was not personally the subject of any investigation, information Comey was legally permitted to share.
In other words, there was no further proof of presidential misconduct or obstruction, and no further conversations pertaining to “concerning” subject matter. Any claims of obstruction are therefore thin at best and ultimately unprovable.
It is worth noting that although Comey expressed his belief that no obstruction of any FBI investigation would occur in the wake of his firing, he admitted his intention to trigger the appointment of a special prosecutor through the release of his memos to the press.
How are these two statements not contradictory? Why would a special prosecutor become necessary if Comey believed no obstruction would occur in his absence?
There is also good reason to believe that Comey’s initial, unauthorized dissemination of these conversations with the president constituted an illegal act. Not only were the memos related to the subject of an ongoing investigation, they also likely would fall under the protection of executive privilege, which Trump never waived.
Furthermore, although Comey claims he chose to release his memos in response to a tweet issued by the president on May 12, a New York Times article from May 11 seems to contain information that matches Comey’s memo nearly word for word.
As Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowtiz describes it, “The public record reveals that The New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr. Comey’s excuse.”
Judging by the totality of evidence presented at Thursday’s testimony, therefore, it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which Comey’s actions were not politically driven.
The only explanation, apart from gross incompetence, is that Comey used the veil of an ongoing investigation as an excuse to suppress the truth from reaching the public, while permitting members of his department to flagrantly lie and oppose the newly-elected president.
Given this information, the president was right to harbor suspicion toward Comey, and wholly justified in firing him.
Trump is no fool. He knows what he is up against and knows that members of the deep state want him to fail. In this context, it is understandable if he asked for Comey’s loyalty, not as a matter of patronage but as a request for fair and impartial treatment as an employee of the president.
For months, Comey has sanctimoniously paraded himself before Congress, touting the seriousness with which he conducts every investigation. “Don’t call us weasels,” he said in September of 2016. But how else can this man be described?
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