“If I find out that people were leaking information about our investigation, whether to reporters or private parties, there will be severe consequences.” – James Comey – May 3 2017
James Comey released a surprisingly detailed Opening Statement the day before his infamous hearing. I discuss it here. It was so detailed that many predicted Comey’s actual testimony would prove to be a non-event. That view was not entirely accurate. Comey’s actual testimony proved to be a layered affair. There were the first impressions, then some deeper takeaways – and then further questions. I cover Comey’s testimony here. In it I discuss some serious timeline inconsistencies – and some inconsistencies in how he handled this affair versus the Clinton Criminal Investigation.
Despite the analysis, nagging questions remain. Questions that I do not have immediate answers to.
Why did Comey choose to hold the memo he later leaked of his Flynn conversation with President Trump – instead of reporting it – or turning it over to Congress?
Comey was not so taken aback by the conversation that he felt the information had to be made public – or turned over to Congress. He only took action once he had been fired. The conversation – and its unclassified memo – was something he decided to “file away” – in case it was later needed. A rainy day memo. Placed away – not out of concern over the conversation – but over what use it might provide him at a later time.
Why did Comey choose to keep secret what President Trump asked him about Flynn – if Trump did so?
Similar question – but not exactly so. If the conversation went as Comey detailed it, the matter might come down to simple tenor and body language. How was the question asked and was the delivery threatening? Friendly? Conversational? Imploring? Context matters. If President Trump’s words are being conveyed with accuracy, this was a conversation Comey could later shape and mold as he saw fit – or as circumstances dictated.
Why did Comey create a specifically unclassified memo of the same Flynn conversation – and only of that particular conversation?
I wish a question had been more accurately asked of this response. How many times – and under what circumstances – has Comey specifically created an “unclassified memo”? How does he decide to do so and why? Clearly, his action of doing so indicate the beginnings of a plan – contingency or otherwise. He wanted something he could go public with – if he needed to.
Why did President Trump’s tweet about “tapes” prompt Comey to decide to leak – if Comey’s version of events was accurate, why the need to leak “his version”?
I find this to be a question worth exploring – and I sincerely hope it will be. Comey noted in his testimony that:
“The president tweeted on Friday [5/12] after I got fired that I better hope there’s not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night [5/15] because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might a tape. My judgment was, I need to get that out into the public square.”
Why did Comey feel so compelled – so bothered – that he “woke up in the middle of the night”? If there really were tapes – and if Comey’s version is accurate – wouldn’t the tapes provide the best corroboration of any conversational interaction?
Why did Comey specifically note that he leaked to get a Special Counsel Appointed – and did he really believe that would happen?
“And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Insights are easy with hindsight. Did Comey leak – as he stated – with the intent to generate the appointment of “Special Counsel”, or did he make use of an action that coincided – or was unintentionally caused or linked – with his action of leaking? If he did leak with the intention of having Special Counsel appointed, does this intent contradict his statement regarding the impetus to leak in response to Trump’s tweet?
In Comey’s testimony he noted that President Trump was not, and is not, under investigation. He noted there was no collusion between the Trump Team and Russia. Other than possible concerns over Trump’s Flynn request – concerns that he did not report to Congress or the DOJ – what would Special Counsel be needed for? And if Comey really thought Special Counsel was necessary he could have asked the DOJ himself.
Does Comey even desire a Special Counsel? Although he has ties to Mueller, Comey no longer has investigative control.
Ask yourself these two important question. What does Comey stand to gain by the appointment of Special Counsel? What does Comey stand to gain by weakening the basis for appointment of Special Counsel?
Why did James Comey admit to being a leaker – why did he decide to leak at all – given his past statements regarding leaks and his position as former FBI Director?
“If I find out that people were leaking information about our investigation, whether to reporters or private parties, there will be severe consequences.” – James Comey – May 3 2017
I do not fully grasp Comey’s decision to leak. I have already noted I question his answer that he did so in response to the President’s tweet on “tapes”. The fact that the former Director of the FBI decided to become a leaker himself – if he was not one already – speaks volumes of the Director’s integrity. Even the Senators – on both sides of the aisle – were shocked. It was clear that Comey intended for this information to come out. His answer was stated with no hesitation – or reservation. Senator Collins who asked the question later said she was ‘stunned at the revelation”.
Leaking in response to the possible existence of actual tapes of actual conversations does not seem to make sense. Comey had another reason to take such an action.
Why did James Comey out his law professor friend – and why not leak directly if leaking was the goal?
Perhaps a small question – perhaps not. Maybe it really was easier to leak via a friend. But why implicate another in your dealings? No one has yet seen the memo. Comey has stated he is not sure it can be produced:
LANKFORD: Do they still have a copy of those memos?
COMEY: Good question. I think so. I guess I can’t say for sure sitting here, but — I guess I don’t know. But I think so.
LANKFORD: So the question is, could you ask them to hand that copyright back to you so you can hand them over to this committee?
But he can state that someone else has seen it per his testimony.
Why did James Comey out Loretta Lynch – and why now – he testified earlier on March 20 2017 and May 3 2017 – and there were multiple chances during the Clinton Investigation?
COMEY: We were getting to a place where the attorney general and I were both going to testify and talk publicly about it I wanted to know was she going to authorize us to confirm we have an investigation. She said yes, don’t call it that, call it a matter. I said why would I do that? She said, just call it a matter. You look back in hindsight, if I looked back and said this isn’t worth dying on so I just said the press is going to completely ignore it. That’s what happened when I said we opened a matter. They all reported the FBI has an investigation open. So that concerned me because that language tracked the way the campaign was talking about the FBI’s work and that’s concerning.
LANKFORD: It gave the impression that the campaign was somehow using the same language as the FBI, because you were handed the campaign language and told to be able to use the campaign language…
COMEY: Yeah — and — and again, I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate. We had a criminal investigation open with — as I said before, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We had an investigation open at the time, and so that gave me a queasy feeling.
In President trump, Special Counsel & Some Relevant Facts, I highlighted testimony from the former FBI Director:
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.”
What changed between May 3 2017 and June 8 2017 that led Director Comey to view Loretta Lynch’s interference in a different light? In his testimony, he specifically goes out of his way to highlight the event and note that it “made him feel queasy”. I’m glad this came to light – but of what purpose does it serve Comey? He has placed Lynch in an awkward and difficult position – yet another Clinton underling taking the blame. He did so by intent. Was his motive one of simple revenge – or neutralization?
Why did Comey not report Loretta Lynch’s request at the time – or resign?
A similar question to the one I ask of Comey’s Flynn conversation with President Trump. Why does this never come to light until the overly suitable moment of Senate testimony on Trump. Comey seems to have a habit of filing away information that should rightly be disseminated in the moment – for use at a later date suited to his purposes.
Why did Comey tell President Trump on three occasions he was not under investigation and then refuse to make this publicly known?
There are multiple possible answers to this question but one above others is obvious. He did so for political purposes – to keep the Russian narrative alive – although he knew it was false. Perhaps Comey thought this would be the wild card that kept him from being fired. Comey held the key to release President Trump from the Russian overhang. If that was a motive, Comey misjudged. There are most certainly other – perhaps more important – reasons, but politics and gamesmanship was foremost.
Why did Comey specifically seek out a one-on-one meeting with President Trump on January 6 2017 – and accept a one-on-one dinner on January 27 2017 – but find himself so opposed to a one-on-one meeting on February 14 2017?
Comey had at least two previous one-on-one meetings with President Trump. The meeting on January 27 2017 was the meeting where Comey stated President Trump asked him for loyalty:
“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.”
Comey made memos and shared the conversation with senior leadership at the FBI “as was his practice” but took no action. But the February 14 2017 meeting where Mike Flynn was discussed upset Comey so greatly that he asked Attorney General Sessions to not leave him alone with Trump:
“I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen.”
But it didn’t stop Comey from having at least two one-on-one phone calls with President Trump on March 30 2017 and April 11 2017. Why should one interaction be so specifically inappropriate yet other interactions are not so?
Why did Comey put forth such a detailed Opening Statement the day prior to his hearing?
Comey’s written opening statement was incredibly detailed – seven pages in length. So much so that many wondered if the following day’s hearings would be anticlimactic or irrelevant. As I noted earlier, that view was not entirely accurate. Comey’s testimony was carefully constructed – so that more questions and lack of relevant answers only emerge upon reflection. Comey had placed much thought into this statement – and it served as the outline for the following day’s actual testimony. Comey’s statement steered the actual testimony – and questions from the Senators – quite effectively.
Was Comey trying to taint Attorney General Jeff Sessions and if so, why?
WYDEN:Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.
What was it about the Attorney General’s own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also 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.
This matter of “facts that…would make his [Sessions] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic” was later reported to be a possible and unconfirmed, undisclosed third meeting with the Russian Ambassador on April 27, 2016 – and it placed a further cloud over Sessions. The Justice Department has strongly denied that any such meeting took place.
In addition, Attorney General Sessions wrote a letter to Congress in which he offered to testify on matters related to Comey’s testimony. That testimony will take place tomorrow June 13 2017 before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Then there was this exchange:
HARRIS: … OK. So was there any kind of memorandum issued from the attorney general or the Department of Justice to the FBI, outlining the parameters of his recusal?
COMEY: Not that I’m aware of.
HARRIS: And do you know if he reviewed any FBI or DOJ documents pertaining to the investigation before he was recused?
COMEY: I don’t. I don’t know.
The Department of Justice immediately responded to this statement with a letter, containing the following rebuttal:
In his testimony, Mr. Comey stated that he was “not *** aware of” “any kind of memorandum issued from the Attorney General or the Department of Justice to the FBI outlining the parameters of [the Attorney General’s] recusal.” However, on March 2, 2017, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff sent the attached email specifically informing Mr. Comey and other relevant Department officials of the recusal and its parameters, and advising that each of them instruct their staff “not to brief the Attorney General *** about, or otherwise involve the Attorney General *** in, any such matters described.”
During his testimony, Mr. Comey confirmed that he did not inform the Attorney General of his concerns about the substance of any one-on-one conversation he had with the President. Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House. The Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.
Despite previous inaccurate media reports, Mr. Comey did not say that he ever asked anyone at the Department of Justice for more resources related to this investigation.
In conclusion, it is important to note that after his initial meeting with career ethics officials regarding recusal (and including the period prior to his formal recusal on March 2, 2017), the Attorney General has not been briefed on or participated in any investigation within the scope of his recusal.
AG Sessions famously recused himself from the Russia Investigation – but he has not recused himself from any instigation into other matters – including an investigation into the testimony of Comey.
James Comey put forth a carefully crafted testimony. He stated exactly what he wanted and disclosed nothing he did not want disclosed. His written opening statement set the tone and provided an outline for the entire Senate Hearing. Messages were sent to particular people and seeds of doubt were planted for others.
Comey’s testimony has some problems with its timeline – but he did his best to craft appearances after the facts. And he controlled the Senate’s narrative.
Marco Rubio’s questioning provided one of the few narrative breaks:
RUBIO: What it comes down to is the president asked three things of you. Asked for your loyalty. You said you’d be loyally honest.
COMEY: Honestly loyal.
RUBIO: Honestly loyal. He asked you on one occasion to let the Mike Flynn thing go because he was a good guy. By the way, you’re aware he said the same thing in the press the next day. He is a good guy, treated unfairly, et cetera. I imagine your FBI agents read that.
COMEY: I’m sure they did.
RUBIO: The president’s wishes were known to them, certainly by the next day when he had a press conference with the prime minister. Going back, the three requests were, number one, be loyal. Number two, let the Mike Flynn thing go. He is a good guy, been treated unfairly. Number three, can you please tell the American people what these leaders in congress already know, which you already know and what you told me three times, that I’m not under personally under investigation.
COMEY: That’s right.
RUBIO: We learn more from the newspaper sometimes than the open hearings. Do you ever wonder why, of all the things in the investigation, the only thing never leaked is the fact the president was never personally under investigation, despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans and the leadership of congress have known that for weeks?
It was obvious Comey’s testimony would prove interesting after that of John Brennan. A question left unexplored from that testimony was the curious issue of when Comey notified the Congressional Gang of Eight – and why he delayed doing so. You can read more about that towards the latter portion of this. Comey was clearly uncomfortable during Rep. Stefanik’s line of questioning but the matter was never pursued. Hopefully it will be.
Until today it was unclear if Session’s testimony would be public. Several hours ago it was announced it will be. I will be interested to hear what Sessions might have to say.
As I said, nagging questions remain.
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