Update: On that odd note, the hearing adjourns. The committee will continue with Comey in closed session, but the open session really didn’t produce any major bombshells or game-changers. As I predicted, we’re left with some amazing pull quotes, but the status quo remains pretty much intact.
Update: McCain makes a much stronger point as to why Comey didn’t ask Trump to specify “that thing” when it came up in the conversation. Why didn’t he ask Trump to clarify? McCain says he certainly would have asked if it had been about him.
Update: John McCain appears to be confusing everyone with his questions about the Hillary investigation.
Update: Comey says that a special counsel would have been inappropriate for the Hillary Clinton investigation because there was “no case” there. That’s a matter of opinion, but it still reflects on what he thinks about the Russia probe, where he has endorsed the appointment of a special counsel.
Update: An awkward exchange between Comey and John Cornyn about whether an FBI official has a positive duty to report a crime if he witnesses it. Comey dodged into whether there was a statutory duty, but then finally said he’d expect that to happen. That underscores the issue of Comey’s lack of reporting on what he now says were improper directives from Trump.
Update: Tom Cotton gets Comey to acknowledge that he never threatened to resign over Trump’s behavior, as he did in the famous 2004 confrontation in John Ashcroft’s hospital room. That’s an important point.
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) June 8, 2017
Update: The media coverage of the Russia investigation and on Flynn especially has taken a beating from Comey, and Jake Tapper has noticed it:
Comey agrees with Cotton reference to NYT Feb 14 story as "almost entirely wrong"
this story –> https://t.co/tQHrH5g5xj
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 8, 2017
I wonder how many other significant media figures will acknowledge this?
Update: Two hours in, and no Trump tweets yet. Perhaps Mark Kasowitz talked some sense into him:
— WCCO Breaking News (@WCCOBreaking) June 8, 2017
Update: So who was the Columbia University professor who acted as Comey’s proxy for the leak? It didn’t take long to find out.
JUST IN: Columbia prof Dan Richman confirms he shared info about Comey's mtg w/ Trump with press, as requested by his friend.
— Madhumita Murgia (@madhumita29) June 8, 2017
Good luck with the media stampede on your office, professor.
Update: Comey and Angus King bring up Henry II’s famous statement, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” as a way to show how a question becomes a directive. This is a bad analogy, though, because Henry II was an absolute monarch, not a chief executive in a separation-of-powers republic, and Comey had other options. Plus, contra King, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s name was simply Thomas Becket, not Thomas à Becket.
Update: Roy Blunt seems to be taking a little more hostile tone than anyone else — still respectful, but definitely skeptical about Comey’s presentation. (Also, bumped to top.)
Update: Comey says he was hoping to trigger the appointment of a special counsel by leaking the memo-to-file about the Flynn probe:
James Comey says he asked a close friend to share the context of his memos with a reporter, as it might spark a special counsel.#ComeyDay
— Jason Calvi (@jcalvi) June 8, 2017
Well … it worked.
Update: Just to be clear …
Sen. Collins: "Was the president under investigation during the time of your dismissal on May 9th?"
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 8, 2017
Full clarification now: Comey says president was not under criminal or counter-intel investigation. https://t.co/gaHx3rAsVl
— Dafna Linzer (@DafnaLinzer) June 8, 2017
That makes the cui bono question for obstruction tough to answer.
Update: In response to a question from Susan Collins, Comey says he never notified Sessions or Rosenstein of the “directive” from Trump, even after having recovered from the conversation enough to write a memo. She should have asked why Comey didn’t come to Congress with that information, too.
Update: This is sloppy at best … and potentially malicious:
! Comey says there was facts that would make Sessions involvement in the Russia investigation “problematic” but he can’t discuss in public pic.twitter.com/H1rNT4SBN1
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 8, 2017
Comey says FBI was aware of facts he can't discuss that would make Sessions' continued participation in the Russia probe problematic.
— Hannah Levintova (@H_Lev) June 8, 2017
Facts that, Comey says, would have made Sessions' continued involvement in Russia investigation "problematic." https://t.co/83RYx2Ekn4
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) June 8, 2017
That was an unsolicited detail from Comey that will now add to the “cloud,” and perhaps unnecessarily.
Update: Another effective point from Rubio:
How do we square Rubio getting Comey to concede Trump was okay w investigation into subordinates but took pressure re: Flynn as "directive?"
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) June 8, 2017
Again, if Comey thought it was a directive at any time, he should have reported it to the AG, deputy AG, or Congress. Comey did nothing but discuss it with his subordinates and write memos to self.
Update: Marco Rubio’s hitting Comey on why he never reported these conversations — or even corrected the president in the moment:
Rubio: Did you object to or inform the WH counsel about Trump's "I hope" statement?
Rubio: "Why not?"
Comey: "I don't know."
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) June 8, 2017
Comey says he was stunned in the moment, but not so stunned that he didn’t immediately memorialize the exchanges as they occurred. If he truly felt he was being inappropriately directed, Comey had a duty to report it, either to the AG or to Congress.
Update: Here’s what Robert Mueller will have to parse out:
Comey says Pres. Trump did not exactly order him to let Flynn investigation go: "Not in his words, no"; but he took it as "direction" pic.twitter.com/R1FCquiKpJ
— ABC News (@ABC) June 8, 2017
Don’t expect a finding of obstruction on that basis. Is it significant as to judgment? Yes, but “I hope” is not a direction. It might be pressure, but bear in mind that the president has the authority to direct policy at the FBI, so it hardly qualifies as an overt act of obstruction or tampering.
Update: Also worth noting — we’re almost an hour into this hearing, and Trump has yet to tweet any responses.
Update: Worth noting, but not exactly a bombshell:
Comey says his impression, at the Jan. 27 awkwardfest, was Trump was "looking to get something" in exchange for keeping Comey in the job.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 8, 2017
That was one of the takeaways from yesterday’s release, but there’s less there than one thinks. Yes, treating the FBI director job as patronage is a bad idea, but it’s certainly not an unknown idea. That doesn’t translate to obstruction or even pressure, but just bad judgment. And this was just Comey’s impression, not an explicit request or demand.
Update: Comey told the committee that Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton “decisively contributed” to his decision to go public with the Hillary Clinton investigation conclusions in July 2016. He also cited Lynch’s demand that he not call it an investigation but a “matter” as a “brick in the load” that led to that decision.
Comey also declined to characterize whether Trump’s comments to him about Flynn amounted to obstruction:
Comey: "I don't think it's for me to say" whether conversation he had with Pres. Trump regarding Flynn Feb. 14 "was an effort to obstruct" pic.twitter.com/XcFprUiXis
— ABC News (@ABC) June 8, 2017
Update: Comey finally got his chance to punch back publicly at Trump for his public criticisms, calling them “lies, plain and simple”:
Comey on Trump's explanation for firing: 'Those were lies plain and simple' https://t.co/w03g6MrgTm
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 8, 2017
Update: I’ll live blog the hearing, probably just focusing on the most momentous parts — and of course on whether Trump starts rebutting James Comey on Twitter. We’ll go with the most recent updates on top. Meanwhile, here’s Mark Warner telling everyone that this is not about what everyone knows it’s about.
"To be clear, this investigation is not about re-litigating the election. It's not about who won or lost," Sen. Warner says on Russia probe pic.twitter.com/T6weYq9B2g
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 8, 2017
Update: Let the games begin:
BREAKING: Source: Trump `disputes' Comey's claim that he asked for loyalty and to let go of the Flynn probe.
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 8, 2017
Original post follows.
We’ve spent weeks discussing what James Comey might say if allowed to go public. Yesterday we got our first look at it, but now we get a chance to hear from him live. NBC will provide a live stream of the hearing, which will probably be a lot less momentous than many seemed to believe before the Senate Intelligence Committee released Comey’s testimony yesterday:
What can we expect from the questioners? Republicans will probably carefully straddle a line between respectful inquiry and cross-examination, but Democrats are almost certain to fawn over the former FBI director. That will be quite a change, as the New York Times’ Carl Hulse pointed out this morning:
Appalling. Disturbing. Partisan. Completely puzzling.
Those were among the harsh words top Democrats used to toss around about the actions of James B. Comey during his tenure as director of the F.B.I. Their anger and resentment over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email matter and other issues were so pronounced that President Trump expected applause from them when he fired Mr. Comey. That turned out not to be the case.
Now Democrats are embracing Mr. Comey, a man many of them blame for Mr. Trump’s election, as a star witness in the investigation into Russian election meddling and potentially problematic behavior by the president.
All is not forgiven. But to the Democrats who will do the questioning at Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee session, the issue of how Mr. Comey performed in his job is very distinct from the issue of how he was forced out of it.
Yes, well … as I wrote at The Week yesterday, that still leaves Comey with some credibility gaps:
At the same time, Comey might have to field some uncomfortable questions, especially if he now characterizes the February meeting with Trump and his own later firing as an attempt at obstruction of justice. After all, Comey testified to Congress a week before his termination that he had never been pressured to end an investigation for political purposes, almost three months after the Trump meeting took place. Why didn’t he report it at the time, or when he first got fired, rather than waiting for the invitation from the committee to testify?
Unfortunately for Comey, he dissipated his credibility with both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill during the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton. He outraged Democrats by publicly characterizing the conclusions of the investigation, and angered Republicans by not pursuing a prosecution over the secret email system and the serial mishandling of classified data. Having already done that once, Comey did it all over again just days before the election in a move which Democrats insist cost them the presidential election. And just before he was fired, Comey defended all of those actions, leading some Democrats in Congress to call for his termination. …
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently sent Comey a letter requesting answers to seven questions related to his meeting with Trump, along with any memos he wrote contemporaneously to record the contents of their conversation and any other such memos written after meetings with then-President Barack Obama and officials at the Department of Justice. According to online news site Circa, Comey politely declined to answer those questions on the basis of now being a “private citizen.” If that’s true, some on the Intelligence Committee might question why Comey wants to talk to them about Trump but not to the Judiciary Committee.
Let’s just say it won’t only be Trump on the hot seat today.