In Trump, no trust
Accusations about lying filled the air and the airwaves on Thursday. Let’s start with former FBI Director James Comey. He was the one who testified under oath.
Comey explained why he started keeping notes on his meetings with Trump dating back to their very first one, on Jan. 6, because of the then-president-elect’s reputation.
It was “the nature of the person: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Those suspicions were borne out, Comey said, by the reasons Trump and his administration first gave after his May 9 firing. They chose to “defame me and, more importantly, the FBI. ... Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Ultimately, Trump’s story changed. Trump said in a TV interview what he fired Comey over the Russia investigation. On that, Comey said, “I take the president at his word” — Trump wanted to “change the way” it was being pursued.
See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
High hopes -- the highest
Comey also said he felt no ambiguity in February when Trump, in an Oval Office meeting, asked other attendees to leave and then brought up the FBI probe into just-fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” Comey recalled Trump telling him.
“I took it as a direction. ... This is the president of the United States, with me alone. ... This is what he wants me to do.”
Comey was asked if Trump crossed the line into obstruction of justice by asking him to shut down an open criminal investigation. He replied: “That’s [special counsel] Bob Mueller’s job to sort that out.”
Die-hard with a vengeance
After his firing, Comey was determined to keep the Russia investigation alive -- and Trump unwittingly inspired a plan by tweeting that “Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
“It didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation,” Comey testified.
He decided to work through a friend, reportedly confirmed to several media organizations to be Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, to put the contents of his meeting notes — including the story of Trump’s “let this go” plea on Flynn — in the hands of The New York Times.
“I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Mueller was named two days after the story appeared.
So are there tapes or was Trump bluffing? “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said. The White House refuses to say.
Fake victory claim
Despite what everyone heard, Trump claimed "total and complete vindication" from Comey's testimony on Twitter. Trump said "WOW Comey is a leaker." This of course ignores testimony that what Comey passed along to news media was his own recollection of events, after he was no longer director. He said his aim was getting a special counsel appointed, because he suspected White House interference.
The line was parroted in pro-Trump media.
Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s outside counsel, denies Trump ever asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo. He also denied Comey’s account that Trump demanded a pledge of loyalty -- though the president is “entitled to expect loyalty.”
Kasowitz accused Comey of an “unauthorized disclosure of privileged information” by leaking details of his exchanges with Trump, and called for an investigation. Legal experts found the privilege claim dubious, according to The New York Times.
At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared, “I can definitively say the president is not a liar. I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.”
Sanders said she doesn’t know about tapes. Asked if she could find out, she replied: “I’ll try to look under the couches.”
The take-away: Applause lines
There was something for everyone from Comey’s testimony, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. The former G-man provided plenty of grist to affirm the views of these who see Trump as truth-challenged and heedless.
But there was no red-hot smoking gun, and for the “lock her up” crowd, Comey even got the dead horse of the Hillary Clinton email case a-twitching.
He revealed that his concerns last year that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch tried to downplay the Clinton case and undermine the credibility of that FBI investigation prompted him to go public on its results.
Defining expectations down
A Republican defense of Trump Thursday: He just doesn’t know any better, but that’s not a crime.
“If you’re trying to convict him for being a bull in a China shop, crude and rude, you’d win,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CBS News. “A lot of this stuff troubles me, but it’s not a crime.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships” between the White House and the Justice Department and FBI. “He’s just new to this.”
What’s the big deal again?
Comey was asked what he would tell Americans who ask, “Why are we making a big deal” about investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“We’re talking about a foreign government that using technical intrusion, lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal,” he said.
Comey was also asked if Trump had ever shown concern about what the Russians were doing and what should be done to stop it.
“I don’t recall a conversation like that,” Comey said.
What else is happening
- Viewers were confused and somewhat alarmed near the end of the hearing at a rambling, largely incoherent line of questioning by Sen. John McCain. A statement from the Arizona senator afterward said, “Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games.”
- Setbacks for Conservatives in the UK election will be dissected for what they may imply for Trump-ism in America and elsewhere.
- After being asked for three days if Trump still has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the White House said yes. Sort of. “The president has confidence in all of his Cabinet and if he didn’t, they wouldn’t be here,” Sanders said.
- Comey hinted there was more to Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation than belatedly disclosed meetings with Moscow’s ambassador. FBI officials “were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,” Comey said.
- Trump stayed off Twitter during Comey’s testimony and gave a speech to an evangelical group. “And as you know, we’re under siege, you understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch,” Trump said.
- Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose Russia contacts are also under scrutiny, is expected to meet with Senate Intelligence Committee staff later this month, NBC News reported.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday, and their mutual frictions with Trump are high on the agenda, the Los Angeles Times reports.