What the hell could this guy have said to get a reaction like this? Note the specificity about the last 15 minutes of the briefing. That sounds like more than just the expected share of hate for Comey from the left because of the letter he sent in late October about reopening Hillary’s case. This sounds like they’re responding to something new they learned today that made them go ballistic. What was it?
“I was non-judgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said as he left the meeting in the Capitol.
“Some of the things that were revealed in this classified briefing — my confidence has been shook.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, delivered a similar condemnation.
“I’m extremely concerned — extremely,” he said.
“I’ll just — I’m very angry,” echoed Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.)…
“I want to [have faith in Comey],” said a visibly annoyed Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.). “I have concerns. Stay tuned.”
“Stay tuned” is Crist hinting, no doubt correctly, that the substance of those mysterious 15 minutes is going to leak, and soon. But what could they be? I can think of one obvious possibility:
A senior law enforcement official declined to talk about the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. But the official confirmed that he was known to the FBI and that the bureau had already obtained copies of his reports months before Sen. John McCain handed FBI Director James Comey a dossier of Steele’s material in December.
The FBI had the BuzzFeed memos months ago, presumably during the campaign. If they started looking into the allegations at the time to try to confirm or debunk them and Comey admitted that to the House today, Democrats might have demanded to know why he thought it was okay to announce in October that the Hillary email investigation had been (re-)opened but not the investigation into Trump’s alleged Russia connections. Remember, the online left was up in arms a few days ago when Ron Wyden asked Comey at a Senate briefing whether there are any open investigations into Trump and Comey answered that he couldn’t discuss that publicly. You discussed the Clinton investigation publicly, liberals cried. Maybe that’s what played out in the House this morning.
But there’s a problem with that theory. It’s already common knowledge that the FBI investigated possible ties between Trump and Russia during the campaign — and found nothing, at least as of October 31st. That was revealed by the New York Times a week before the election. If Democrats are mad about a double standard in Comey disclosing the Clinton investigation but not the Trump investigation, it’s odd that they’d wait two and a half months to make that clear when they’ve had the ammo all along. In fact, some didn’t wait: The day that NYT story was published in October, Harry Reid sent a letter to Comey claiming that “In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” Why won’t you confirm that the way you’ve confirmed that the Clinton investigation has been reopened, Reid wondered? The idea of a double standard by the FBI is an old complaint on the left by now, which makes it hard to imagine that as the source of this morning’s uproar in the House.
A darker theory about this morning’s uproar is that Comey might have told them the feds did find contacts between Team Trump and the Russian government and, what’s more, that they had that evidence before Election Day but sat on it. (Which would mean that the NYT story mentioned above was wrong.) It’s easy to understand why Democrats would go berserk over that, but it’s harder to understand why the FBI wouldn’t have revealed it by now. You would think they would have come forward with a bombshell like that before the vote purely in the interest of foiling Russia’s plan, even though Comey would have been accused of throwing the election to Hillary. But if he and the FBI couldn’t reveal it then for whatever reason, the time to bring it forward was during the transition period, before anyone in the new administration has assumed a position of power. Instead they’ve said nothing — and nothing has leaked from within the Bureau, as you’d expect if they had anything truly damaging on the new president. And beyond all that, if Comey really did have evidence of coordination during the campaign between Russia and Trump, that’s probably not something he would share with the full House. It’s so explosive that it would likely be closely held among leaders in Congress and the heads of the intel agencies until they could jointly figure out a way to proceed.
We’ll probably have some sense of what was said this morning soon thanks to the ol’ leak factory, especially given how much buzz this story is getting on social media. Stay tuned. In lieu of an exit question, a fun fact via the Hill: As angry as they are at Comey, some Dems don’t want him to resign for fear that “he’s probably going to be better than the guy they’d put in.” Knock Comey out and the new FBI chief is likely to be an out-and-out Trump loyalist. Imagine Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani in the position. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Lot of that thinking going around lately, in fact.
Update: That was fast. According to the Guardian, House Democrats were angry that Comey wouldn’t tell them whether there’s currently an investigation into Trump and his team. Comey’s accuse for not answering Ron Wyden’s question about that on Wednesday was that it was a public hearing and he doesn’t discuss that sort of thing publicly. This morning’s briefing for the House was classified, though. Could Comey tell members of Congress in confidence whether the FBI is investigating anyone? Nope, he said. Then came the fireworks:
One source in the meeting said Comey would not answer “basic questions” about the FBI’s current investigative activities. The FBI chief was grilled “over and over again,” according to the source, about his standards for acknowledging FBI investigations, with legislators repeatedly bringing up Comey’s dramatic public confirmation that the bureau was revisiting classification issues with Hillary Clinton’s private email server days before the election, as well as his summer press conference announcing that he would not seek indictment…
Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who had pressed Comey during a September hearing about his criteria for acknowledging an investigation, sharply asked Comey if the director was applying a double standard to Trump.
Comey had said in September testimony that his standard was a “a need for public to be reassured, [and] when it’s obvious, it’s apparent, given our activities, public activities that the investigation is ongoing”.
Nadler, according to a different source, then asked Comey in the Friday meeting: “Do you believe that standard has been met with reference to the possible investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible connections to the Russian government? And if not, why not?”
If there’s no investigation, why not just tell Congress that? Why not tell the public that, per what he said in September about sometimes needing to reassure the public about things? If the new president is under no suspicion, letting Americans know that would be reassuring. So why not just say so? Is Trump being investigated?