Former FBI Director James Comey released his opening statement ahead of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8 2017. My assessment follows the highlights of Comey’s statement.
Comey notes nine one-on-one interactions – three in person and six on the phone – with President Trump but highlights only five. He states:
January 6 2017:
on January 6 2017, he informed President Trump that he was not under investigation – without President Trump asking him about the matter.
he documented his first conversation with President Trump on a laptop immediately after the meeting.
he decided to create written records of conversations with President Trump from that point forward.
he did not engage in this practice with others – including written documentation of conversations with Obama – of which he says there were only two in eight years.
the FBI Investigation is a counter-intelligence investigation – not a criminal one.
January 27 2017:
on January 27 2017, he received a same day dinner invitation.
at the dinner President Trump made the statement “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty”.
he gave no response to this statement by President Trump.
the topic of loyalty comes up again:
Trump: I need loyalty.
Comey: You will always get honesty from me.
Trump: That’s what I want, honest loyalty.
Comey: You will get that from me.
he notes that President Trump was considering ordering him to investigate the salacious material [Trump dossier] to prove it didn’t happen. Comey notes:
“I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative.”
February 14 2017:
on February 14 2017 he has a private one-on-one conversation with President Trump. Comey claims Trump made the following statements:
He [Flynn] is a good guy and has been through a lot.
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.
he prepares an unclassified memo of the conversation and discusses the matter with FBI leadership.
he understands President Trump:
“to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversation 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.”
per discussions with other senior FBI officials, Comey decides to keep this conversation with Trump private.
he asks Attorney General Sessions to prevent any further direct communication between himself and the President. He does not tell Sessions of the Flynn conversation.
March 30 2017:
he received a March 30 2017 call from President Trump who describes the Russian Investigation as “a cloud” and asks what he [Comey] can do to “lift the cloud”.
he says President Trump wanted him to make public [Comey’s assertions] that President Trump was not under investigation.
he says he:
“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.”
he says he:
“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.”
April 11 2017:
he received an April 11 2017 call from President Trump inquiring again about Comey making public [Comey’s assertions] that President Trump was not under investigation.
this was Comey’s final communication with President Trump.
Several important takeaways:
Comey tells President Trump three different times – as Trump had tweeted – he is not under investigation. Comey does so on January 6, January 27 and March 30 2017.
Comey notes the FBI Investigation is a counter-intelligence investigation – not a criminal one.
“It is important to understand that FBI counter-intelligence investigations are different than the more-commonly known criminal investigative work. The Bureau’s goal in a counter-intelligence investigation is to understand the technical and human methods that hostile foreign powers are using to influence the United States or to steal our secrets.”
Congressional Leaders were informed by Director Comey that President Trump was not under investigation.
Comey specifically volunteers to President Trump that Trump is not under investigation. President Trump does not ask Comey for this information.
President Trump is clearly frustrated the FBI will not confirm he is not under investigation. Comey’s reason for not doing so appears to be political as opposed to procedural.
Recall that Comey had no problem in stating the following during his March 20 2017 testimony:
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
Because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining.”
But Comey somehow could not make a simple public statement noting that the FBI was not investigating President Trump – despite having told President Trump exactly that on three different occasions.
Comey creates “an unclassified memo” – unlike his other memos – of the February 14th conversation with Flynn. It is this memo that is leaked upon his firing.
Comey states he has only had two private conversations with Obama in eight years.
Comey subjectively notes – contrary to his May 3, 2017 testimony – an implicit request from Trump to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. This does not appear to be illegal or meet the threshold of obstruction of justice – but it does appear to show poor judgment and improper conduct on the part of President Trump.
Two mitigating factors:
The FBI previously noted they had “not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government” in their review of Flynn’s calls with the Russian Ambassador. President Trump knew this. As did Comey.
Director Comey testified, under oath, before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, that his agency had not been pressured by the Trump Administration:
HIRONO: “So if the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?”
COMEY: “In theory yes.”
HIRONO: “Has it happened?”
COMEY: “Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that — without an appropriate purpose. I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.”
If Director Comey truly felt he was being pressured by President Trump – or any in the Trump Administration – he had a legal duty to report his concerns to the DOJ. He did not do so.
Overall, this release by Comey should be viewed as good news for President Trump, although I am sure much will be made of President Trump’s statements regarding Mike Flynn – and to a lesser degree President Trump’s request to “lift the cloud” of the Russian Investigation.
It certainly reveals the political nature of the former FBI Director.
In a related event, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, Interim-FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein all testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning.
Both Coats and Rogers stated they have never been pressured by President Trump.
COATES: I have never felt pressured to intervene in the Russia investigation in any way..
…to intervene or interfere in any way in shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to an ongoing investigation.
ROGERS: In the three-plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured.
Both Coats and Rogers decline to answer if President Trump asked about the Russian Investigation:
COATS: What I’m not willing to do is to share what I think is confidential information that ought to be protected in an open hearing.
ROGERS: I am not going to discuss the specifics of interactions that I may or may have not had with the President.
There are going to be a lot of headlines and a lot of differing viewpoints, but from what we have so far there is ultimately nothing. No illegal activity, no intervention into the Russian Investigation – and no investigation into President Trump.
It’s also worth reiterating that Comey informed Congress that President Trump was not under investigation. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to Schumer, Warner, Schiff et al.
If anything we have evidence of the FBI Director acting politically – taking pains to privately reassure President Trump while publicly undermining him through unnecessary silence and refusal to make public what should have been.
That President Trump was not – and is not – under investigation.
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