This post was written on the night of 7 June 2017, in anticipation of former FBI Director James B. Comey’s public testimony before members of the United States Congress, slated to take place 8 June 2017.

If you’re reading this post, you are probably aware that former FBI Director James B. Comey is going to testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on the morning of 8 June 2017 (10 AM). If you’re not 100% sure about why Comey is giving this testimony, or why he is no longer the FBI Director, check out this post from last month.

On 7 June, Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Ranking Member Mark Warner released this seven-page testimony from Director Comey, a “preview” of the events to come. At the opening of this hearing, Comey will read this statement out to the audience and the Senators on the dais, before taking questions and elaborating over the course of the morning and early afternoon. The seven pages of remarks were released at the behest of the former FBI Director in order to save time and help the Senators on the panel come up with good follow-up questions ahead of time. The Senate wants to know the answers to the following questions (for some of these, they have the answers to these questions but they want the Director to verbally reaffirm them):

 

  • Why did Pres. Trump remove Director Comey from office?
  • Did Pres. Trump attempt to coerce/influence the FBI’s investigation into Lieutenant General Flynn’s conduct and ties to Russia/Turkey, or the larger investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign? (We now know the answer is a yes)
    • Did Pres. Trump do this knowingly?
  • Did Pres. Trump attempt to coerce/influence Director Comey into publicly stating that Pres. Trump himself is not under investigation?
  • Why did Director Comey document all his conversations with the President in memos? (We pretty much know this one too – Trump was acting weird and unethical and Comey was uncomfortable the whole time)
  • Did Trump ask for a pledge of personal loyalty – a pledge that would clearly violate Comey’s oath of office? (Comey says possibly, Trump says no)
  • Is there any other official in the executive branch, current or former, who witnessed any of these events and can provide honest testimony?
  • Does Director Comey believe Pres. Trump acted unethically or criminally?
  • Are there any pertinent details that aren’t included in the seven pages?

 

That’s a lot of questions to follow (even more if you go with TheHill’s list of 49 questions), and while I can’t give objective insight into all of them (especially the last three), I can give it my best shot here, using (relinking for ease of access) Director Comey’s remarks here in conjunction with evidence attained over the past month.

Why did Pres. Trump remove Director Comey from office?

The White House made an initial, ineffectual claim (see also: lie) that Director Comey was fired over the manner in which he investigated Hillary Clinton’s e-mail controversy. If you want evidence for why that claim is malarkey, check out my earlier post on Comey’s firing or look up posts by any news organization that covered the issue. Because President Trump himself has repeatedly muddied and contradicted that explanation, the White House is no longer actively peddling that story.

Given that President Trump has shown himself to be so concerned about the FBI’s Russia investigation (now Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation), and that it continues to provide new sources of controversy, I find it far more likely that Pres. Trump removed Comey over frustration that Comey did not actively defend him in the context of the investigation. Comey shows evidence of Trump’s frustration in the matter with excerpts from his opening remarks:

 

I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on
exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those
Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump.
I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need
to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department
of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an
open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because
it would create a duty to correct, should that change.) The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.

He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to
make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he
wasn’t being investigated…

On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had
done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.

 

The facts of the past several months in conjunction with Comey’s prepared remarks creates a pattern about his firing and raises an immense cloud of suspicion over this issue.

Pay attention to this question during the hearing – Comey may shed light on this.

 

Did Pres. Trump attempt to coerce/influence the FBI’s investigation into Lieutenant General Flynn’s conduct and ties to Russia/Turkey, or the larger investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign?

According to Director Comey, yes. Comey wrote this in his remarks:

 

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a
good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done
anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President.
He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my
term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about
Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the
President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.

 

This is largely dependent on Comey’s word, given under sworn oath in front of members of the United States Senate. Given that Director James Comey is a career legal official who has decades of experience in Republican and Democratic administrations, and that he has stuck by his story for months, I have little doubt in my mind that the United States Senate will take his word as fact, or at least give it great weight. Remember, Director Comey documents his conversations with the President in written memos. President Trump, on the other hand, has… more a few issues with credibility and honesty. If the House and Senate take Comey’s word over the White House’s (the latter being that they were not trying to obstruct the course of justice), that could end up being… problematic for President Trump.

There’s another layer to this issue – did Trump do this deliberately/with a guilty mind? One of the stranger defenses of the President’s actions revolves around this explanation: This defense asserts that he did attempt to influence Director Comey’s investigation, but only did so because he is a political outsider who doesn’t know better. The White House tried it after Trump called NATO an obsolete institution during his campaign, and attempted to do so whenever they had to square any incident of inexperience on Trump’s part. If this is true (and it is certainly possible), it does not change any potential crime (after all, ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it) but it does change how any potential impeachment hearings would go, because it would show that Trump made a mistake instead of acting with malice. Often, decisions to impeach a public official over their misconduct requires malicious intent. The same applies here.

This case runs into some serious trouble pretty much instantly: First off, Donald Trump is the President of the United States. Anyone who supports his presidency should not defend him by saying “well I guess he just didn’t know what he was doing is wrong,” because the President of the United States is the single most powerful person on the planet, and he should always know what he is doing, right or wrong. Electing a President who doesn’t know things as simple as “don’t try to interfere with federal investigations” and “we deliver nuclear weapons to our enemies with underground silos, missile-carrying submarines, and aerial bombers” makes him woefully unprepared to be a United States Congressman, much less the LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD.

Second off, according to Comey’s testimony, President Trump only tried to interfere with the Russia investigation (namely as it related to Michael Flynn) in private, one-on-one conversations. On one occasion, President Trump was holding a meeting with a number of intelligence officials, then ended the meeting but kept Director Comey behind and said “he wanted to speak only with me” and nobody else, waiting until Attorney General Sessions and Jared Kushner left the Oval Office. The White House Counsel, Don McGahn, was absent from this one-on-one meeting, and in removing all the witnesses from the room he may have demonstrated knowledge that his request was shady and a possible breach of government ethics.

This excuse of “he didn’t know any better” falls apart when we also consider that Comey allegedly told the President about the need for separation between the President and the FBI:

 

At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the
Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

 

It is Comey’s belief that Trump attempted to influence the FBI’s investigation into General Michael Flynn and that such an attempt made him so uncomfortable that he recorded it in a memorandum. It appears unlikely that Trump made this request by accident, and if ends up that he did try to interfere in the investigation by accident, it would reflect incredibly poorly on the President and his ability to run the government of the United States. The more likely explanation is that President Trump did not stumble into this scenario by accident given the above reasons, because that would require an immense amount of impropriety and incompetence on President Trump’s part. Of course, Comey will likely do his best to clarify and elaborate on these remarks in his upcoming testimony. Next.

 

Did Pres. Trump attempt to coerce/influence Director Comey into publicly stating that Pres. Trump himself is not under investigation?

According to Director Comey, yes. More than once. I listed these excerpts from Comey’s prepared remarks earlier in this post – emphasis mine:

 

I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on
exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those
Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump.
I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need
to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department
of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an
open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because
it would create a duty to correct, should that change.) The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.

He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to
make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he
wasn’t being investigated…

On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had
done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.

Trump has also made it a point to publicly say that he himself is not under investigation,. He even mentioned it in his letter when he removed Director Comey from his post at the FBI despite the letter ostensibly being about Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail investigation:

 

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the conclusion of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

 

Why did Director Comey document all his conversations with the President in memos?

According to Director Comey, his personal contacts with the President made him distinctly uncomfortable. Director Comey headed up the FBI from 2013 to 2017, primarily during the tenure of President of the United States. He says this multiple times in his prepared remarks:

 

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect
in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle
outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written
records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my
practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past. I
spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) –
once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly,
for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I
memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with
President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this
was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part,
an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

 

By creating an extensive trail of written remarks and memos, Comey is strengthening the veracity of his claims and provides “real-time” documentation of his interactions with President Trump. It’s the closest thing Comey can get to screenshotting and archiving text messages and placing them in bags marked “evidence.”

 

Did Trump ask for a pledge of personal loyalty – a pledge that would clearly violate Comey’s oath of office?

Possibly – according to Director Comey, at least:

A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the
awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The
conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our
dinner.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job,
saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things
about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need
loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then
said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get
that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is
possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it
wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped
end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he
should expect.

 

As the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey did not pledge his loyalty to the President of the United States, and no federal official should ever do so. In fact, the oath of office for all federal officials is such (and if you don’t believe me for some weird reason, here’s Comey saying these words himself):

 

I, [name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the CONSTITUTION of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of which I am about to enter.

 

By asking for Comey’s loyalty, Trump may have been asking for Comey’s personal loyalty, an act that would violate Comey’s own oath of office. Comey tried to deflect, saying he would always be honest with the President, or “honest loyalty,” as he put it. From what is written above, it’s not 100% clear that Trump wanted personal loyalty, but it is implied. Trump doesn’t need to ask federal officials if they are loyal, because they swore an oath to be loyal to the Constitution – asking them again in a one-on-one setting has… different implications. If Trump did intend to attempt to get Comey’s personal loyalty, that would be a highly unethical and inappropriate request because it would conflict with Comey’s loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. You don’t have to take my word for it – take Speaker Ryan’s.

 

When Chairman Burr gavels out Comey’s hearing, we’ll have a much better understanding of the Russia investigation, but the Democrats probably won’t have any “smoking guns” to wave around at an impeachment hearing. Unless Comey really drops some bombshells during his testimony, the House of Representatives will not be meaningfully closer to impeaching the President. Right now, with a solid Republican majority, Congress needs more than just James Comey’s testimony to pin the President or anyone else to the wall. Comey is one man, and while the United States Senate has great faith in him (as do I), they can not/should not pin the President or anyone else to the wall with just the word of one man.

To put it another way, if you’re reading this post dreaming about President Trump being led out of the Oval Office to a waiting helicopter, you may have to wait a while longer.  But that day may come a little bit sooner as a result of this hearing.

Comey’s testimony is still INCREDIBLY important for the course of this investigation into the Trump campaign and Trump’s conduct as President. It could very well shine a credible light on shady, unethical, and possibly illegal actions on the part of the President, and it will have a crapton of political implications. After all, while distrust of public officials is at a shockingly low level, Comey appears to have more public trust than the President, and if Comey points a finger at Trump it will damage the White House immensely.

Watch the testimony. Most networks are going to be covering this live, including CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and god knows how many others will cover it as well. Watch it on C-SPAN if you have to.

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