Get ready for a big … nothingburger? Everyone in Washington and the media awaits James Comey’s testimony on Thursday with bated breath, but they may be in for a deep disappointment. ABC News’ Justin Fishel and Jonathan Karl report that sources close to the former FBI director say he will not claim that Donald Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation into Michael Flynn. He will, however, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump didn’t tell the truth about whether the investigation into Russian influence had excluded him as a subject:
Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the President of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.
The president allegedly said he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation, a request that concerned Comey enough that he documented the conversation in a memo shortly after speaking with the president. In the memo, according to sources close to Comey who reviewed it, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” during a February meeting.
The request made Comey uncomfortable, but the source tells ABC News that Comey has told associates he will not accuse the President of obstructing justice.
“He is not going to Congress to make accusations about the President’s intent, instead he’s there to share his concerns,” the source said, and tell the committee “what made him uneasy” and why he felt a need to write the memo documenting the conversation.
So … what else is there to discuss? No one really bought that Comey had told Trump that he was off the hook. The FBI does not disclose the status or targets of an investigation, or at least they didn’t before Comey’s run of poor decisions last year. Comey may not have publicly disputed that characterization of their conversations at the time, but he made his displeasure with those claims known well enough that it’s become common knowledge.
Comey will discuss his “discomfort” with Trump’s conversation instead, and explain his need to memorialize them in the form of an unofficial 302 document. That too is rather self-explanatory, just on the nature of the subject matter at hand. Hearing that Trump asked whether the Flynn matter could get dropped would make any law-enforcement professional cringe, and reach for a notebook. Comey would have wanted to take contemporaneous notes just in case there was any later suggestion that he encouraged that topic.
Basically, then, Comey’s not going to tell us anything new, if ABC News has this right; he’s simply going to amplify what we’ve already heard. That will cause the White House some discomfort, as the pull quotes are bound to be amazing, but it won’t create any lasting damage beyond what has already occurred. And the most likely reason why Comey won’t push the notion of obstruction or interference is because it would raise serious questions as to why Comey didn’t report the conversation at the time. One has to wonder whether Comey’s asking friends to get this story out now as a way to seriously dial down the expectations and the panting anticipation that have erupted this week ahead of his testimony.
Some of those questions will likely get asked anyway, including the seven that the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to Comey last week. Guy Benson covers some of that ground in his suggested twelve questions for the committee. Expect at least one Republican to focus closely on any other informal 302s Comey may have written after meetings with Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch, especially in relation to the Hillary Clinton probe.