Ed flagged this in the Chaffetz post but it deserves its own thread, as Comey’s destined to be grilled about if/when he testifies before Congress. And today it really is more of an “if” than a “when.” Now that there’s a special counsel working on Russiagate for the DOJ, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees might back off on their own investigations. It may be a long time before we get clarity on whether that phantom Comey memo accusing Trump of leaning on him over Mike Flynn exists or not.
Key question: Is Comey claiming here that he’s never experienced political pressure during an investigation of any kind or is he claiming that he’s never experienced it from the DOJ? That’s what Mazie Hirono’s question was about — the DOJ, not the White House.
HIRONO: So if the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?
COMEY: In theory yes.
HIRONO: Has it happened?
COMEY: Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that — without an appropriate purpose. I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.
He wasn’t asked about Trump so technically his answer’s not inconsistent with the phantom memo. But it would be lawyerly to a Clintonian degree to answer a question about whether the president’s deputies at Justice ever pressured him to quash an investigation for political reasons by saying no, without elaboration, when in fact he’d been approached by the president himself to “go easy” on Flynn. Is that really going to be his defense when he’s asked about this in the future? “Her question wasn’t about Trump, so I didn’t think attempted obstruction of justice by the White House was worth mentioning”? C’mon.
At Red State, streiff argues that you can interpret Comey’s answer in three ways:
Either Trump asked Comey to stop the investigation and Comey mislead the Senate by specifically referring to the actions of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and hiding from them an attempt by Trump to stop an investigation. Or Trump made no such request. Or, Comey considered that the comment fell into the category of “they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it.” In other words, he did not take it as an attempt to interfere in the investigation. Two of these three options explain the skepticism expressed by Senator Burr earlier today on the memo story.
The question here is similar to the question of why he didn’t report what Trump allegedly said to him to his superiors at the DOJ. The likely answer to that one is that he thought Trump’s request was inappropriate but not so clear-cut a threat as to constitute obstruction and he didn’t want to set off a political firestorm over an ambiguous remark. That’s defensible — but Hirono isn’t asking him about offenses that rise to the level of obstruction here. She’s asking whether he’s experienced any form of political pressure on an investigation from the DOJ. As such, it’s hard to square his omission of Trump’s request with the memo reported by the Times unless he goes the hyper-lawyerly route. And if he goes the hyper-lawyerly route, his credibility’s going to take another hit.
I still find it hard to believe, though, that Comey would sit by in silence the last few days and let the media go nuts over a bombshell memo he supposedly drafted about an inappropriate conversation with Trump if the memo didn’t exist. He’ll be asked to produce it eventually via subpoena. If there is no memo and he lets the country go on thinking for months or years that there is, an outraged public will demand to know why he didn’t correct the record about it immediately. What’s his answer going to be? “I enjoyed the fact that Trump was getting screwed”? “I did it for the lulz”? A key reason that Comey took on a public role in Emailgate last year, supposedly, was that he thought the FBI’s credibility required transparency in such a high-profile, politically charged matter. Now he’s going to turn around and piss that away by keeping his mouth shut while reports of a fake memo written by him consume America? I don’t buy it.