Comey Testimony Suggests Trump Acting from a Guilty Conscience
Former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. On Wednesday, he made a prepared statement that he plans to deliver available to the public. On the surface, the 7-page statement is a mundane transcription of notes Comey made following several meeting with Donald Trump. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that it is a document for the history books as the bare facts Comey presents are profoundly damning of the president.
Related: BREAKING: Here is Ex-FBI Dir. Comey's Planned Testimony For Thursday's Trump-Russia Hearings
Comey explains that he explained the existence of "salacious material" in the MI6 memo detailing alleged kompromat that Russian intelligence had on Trump on January 6th, when Comey met the president for the first time. The top G-Man counseled the president one on one to "minimize potential embarrassment." Comey assured Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally.
The president invited Comey to the White House for dinner on January 27th. Comey arrived believing that other people would be attending the dinner, but in fact, it was only the two of them. Comey testifies:
"The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.
"My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch."
Comey's description of how Trump steered the conversation makes the president sound like he has all the subtlety of a Scooby-Doo villain:
"A few moments later, the President said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. ….
… the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, 'I need loyalty.' I replied, 'You will always get honesty from me.' He paused and then said, 'That's what I want, honest loyalty.'"
Comey describes how, on February 14, Trump told Comey to stay in his office after a widely attended meeting, and told everyone else to leave. The president then told Comey that, regarding former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who had just resigned, "I hope you can let this go." He repeatedly told Comey that Flynn "is a good guy." Comey testifies that he did not agree to "let this go." That meeting prompted a high-level discussion within FBI leadership, Comey testifies. The FBI leadership agreed that they needed to keep their distance from Trump. Comey asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to allow Comey to be alone in a room with Trump again, but did not tell Sessions about Trump's efforts to pressure Comey.
On March 30th, Comey testifies, Trump called Comey and complained that the Russia investigation was "a cloud" that was preventing Trump from doing his job. Trump told Comey that he had nothing to do with Russia, and had not been involved with "hookers" in Russia. He asked Comey to think about what the FBI could do to "lift the cloud." Trump wanted to know if any of his "'satellite' associates" were being implicated in the Russia probe.
The president asked the FBI director to publicly deny that the FBI was investigating him. Comey advised the president this could backfire, since proving a negative is impossible, and could fuel speculation. Comey also notes in his testimony that if the FBI did launch an investigation of Trump, it would have to issue a correction of its previous statement that there was no investigation, which could be embarrassing for Trump.
Trump called Comey again on April 11th to ask Comey what he had done about "the cloud." He asked Comey again to "get out" that he was not under investigation. Comey advised the president to direct his questions to the DOJ. Trump replied, "I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know." Comey did not ask him to clarify "that thing."
That was the last time they spoke. About a month later, the president fired Comey.
The truly remarkable thing about this sequence of events is how self-incriminating Trump was in his interactions with the FBI director. Trump's response to the FBI trying to protect him from foreign espionage was to cartoonishly demand loyalty, suggest that Comey not look into it too deeply, inquire if his associates might get swept up in it, ask him to deny the whole thing, and finally, fire him. The president was not being investigated, but continuously acted as if the investigation made him deeply uncomfortable, while trying and failing to be nonchalant about it.
Comey's testimony reveals how much the Trump-Russia controversy is a self-inflicted wound for Trump. If the president had played it cool, and allowed the FBI to just conduct its counter-espionage operation, they might never have had any reason to look into Trump and his associates. The reason the investigation keeps mushrooming is because the denials and attempts at obstruction have gone to such absurd lengths. Trump and his closest White House associates have done nothing but overreact to the FBI.
In Comey's testimony. Trump sounds like a toddler who, upon being told that his parents are going to clean the kitchen, responds, "Okay. Just don't count the cookies in the cookie jar. I didn't steal any of them."
Trump's handling of this investigation has only ever raised questions, never put any to bed, and the questions often suggest a shocking conclusion that is hard to avoid.
Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images
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