Ringling Brothers may have retired its three-ring show, but believe me, the circus will come to town in Washington DC on Thursday … even if there won’t be much of a show. Everyone is ramping up for perhaps the most anticipated Congressional testimony since Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, or maybe even Oliver North’s appearance during the investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal. Former FBI director James Comey will testify in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the ongoing probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election — and the extent to which Donald Trump made him feel “uncomfortable.”
This afternoon’s ABC News report on the leak from Comey’s camp may have taken some of the wind out of the sails, but beforehand, CNN’s Chris Cillizza called it “Washington’s Super Bowl.” The Redskins have been unavailable for comment on that point for the last twenty-six years:
Washington politics has often been described as sports for people who weren’t all that good at sports. If that’s true, then Thursday’s congressional testimony by fired FBI Director James Comey is this town’s Super Bowl. …
The big three broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — announced they would be carrying the Comey hearing live, an unheard-of move for something so traditionally mundane as a congressional hearing.
Not only will Comey testify then but he’ll have no shackles — at least from senators — on what he can say. And his words will be heard by, basically, anyone who turns on a TV for any part of the day on Thursday.
The story Comey presumably has to tell is a humdinger, based on all of the amazing reporting in and around this White House and Comey’s relationship with Trump.
It’s not just the broadcast networks that will carry the show live. Salem Radio Network, part of our parent company Salem Communications, plans to cover the hearing gavel-to-gavel as well, beginning at 10 am ET. SRN News’ Senate correspondent Linda Kenyon will anchor the broadcast, which will pre-empt our regular schedule, and SRN White House correspondent Greg Clugston will contribute to the commentary.
But will this be a game-changer, or will this be the equivalent of a “Fitzmas” moment? Intel committee chair Richard Burr told reporters that he expects Comey to be pretty darned frank, and will only be “constrained” when it comes to classified information:
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said that he doesn’t expect‘s testimony to be “fenced off” or “constrained” when he appears before the committee Thursday.
“He can’t talk about anything that’s classified in an open session,” Burr told reporters Monday, “but I haven’t gotten any indication that he is constrained in any way, shape or form as a public citizen.” …
“It’s aboutwhich is the investigation,” Burr said. “And that does lead into the possibility of , but it also gets into questions that have been raised publicly about conversations that may or may not have taken place. He’ll have an opportunity to clear that all up.”
One easily-anticipated element of the circus may not actually materialize, however. The White House would normally be expected to put together a rapid-response team to counter any statements made by Comey, in the style of a campaign working a debate. According to NBC, however, Trump’s team says there is “zero” chance of happening, and any questions will be routed to outside counsel instead:
As Washington gears up for one of its biggest political events in years — former FBI director James Comey appearing publicly on Capitol Hill — it’s not a stretch to imagine the White House scrambling behind the scenes to set up a crisis-management system to contain fallout from any damaging testimony Thursday.
Instead, multiple people familiar with the planning describe to a different reality: early talk of a “war room” has petered out significantly. One source close to the White House describes it flatly: “There’s no war room. Zero.” Another administration source says it simply “never took off.”
What was originally intended to be an in-house command post has instead shifted outside the administration. The president’s aides are expected to shunt all Comey-related questions on Thursday to outside counsel Marc Kasowitz. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer signaled this move last week, when he explicitly referred Russia-related inquiries to the president’s longtime lawyer.
That’s a political risk, if Comey offers any seriously damaging testimony, but the ABC report pretty much limits that risk, and perhaps the White House knew already that Comey doesn’t have anything that damaging on the president. Kasowitz could decide to set up his own comms operation, but he’d have to be careful about putting explanations on the record — especially if Trump has his Twitter app handy during the hearing. One would think that a president might have more pressing matters to attend on a Thursday midmorning, and that an attorney would warn a client not to make any public statements at all, but … Trump’s not exactly known for taking advice, either:
Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter. …
But a consistent theme, the sources said, was the concern about whether the president would accept the advice of his lawyers and refrain from public statements and tweets that have consistently undercut his position.
“The concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen,’” said one lawyer close to the White House who is familiar with some of the discussions between the firms and the administration, as well as deliberations within the firms themselves.
We’ll know Thursday whether Kasowitz can keep his client under control. But when the circus comes to town, the man who sees himself as the ringmaster will be loathe to concede the center ring, especially to an employee he fired. Over/under on Trump tweets during Comey testimony: A dozen.
I'm told by two WH sources that Pres. Trump does not plan to put down Twitter on Thursday. May live tweet if he feels the need to respond.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) June 6, 2017