5 Key Takeaways From the Comey Hearing
In a highly anticipated hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey testified under oath that the President is a liar who can't be trusted. And that was just his opening statement...
Here are five key takeaways from the most anticipated congressional hearing in recent history:
1. Comey Testified Under Oath That The President Is A Liar Who Can't Be Trusted
In his opening remarks, former FBI Director Comey confirmed that Trump had lied about his rationale for firing him, as well as in his characterization of the FBI being in a state of chaos and disorganization. Comey characterized Trump's remarks as an effort to "defame" his character, as well as the FBI as an institution.
"Those were lies, plain and simple," Comey said, speaking about Trump's characterization of the FBI as an organization that was "poorly led [and] in disarray."
Shortly thereafter, Comey testified that he felt it necessary to document his meetings and phone calls with Trump because he was so concerned that Trump would lie about them in the future.
Comey said he knew there might come a day when he would need to defend his own integrity, and that of the FBI, against false allegations made by the president. He also noted that he never had these concerns when working for the two previous presidential administrations (Bush and Obama), but that the "nature of the person" and the "subject matter" made him feel it was necessary to document the details of his interactions with Trump..
Comey also confirmed that Trump lied in his interview with Lester Holt, in which Trump claimed that Comey requested to have dinner with him to ask to keep his job.
All of this can be summarized in one damning statement: The former FBI Director testified under oath today that the president of the United States is a repeated liar who cannot be trusted. While there were a lot of important revelations from today's hearing, this indictment of the president's character may be the most striking.
2. Comey Took Trump's Words As A "Direction" To Back Off The Flynn Investigation - Which May Provide Evidence Of Obstruction Of Justice
One of the most critical matters going into today's hearing involved Trump's request for Comey to "let go of" the investigation into Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. During that interaction, which took place during a February 14th meeting, the president asked the Attorney General and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to leave the Oval Office, so that he could privately ask Comey to back off his investigation of Flynn's connections to Russia and subsequent false statements to federal investigators.
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is good guy. I hope you can let this go," Trump reportedly told Comey, according to the former FBI Director's memos.
When asked about that interaction, Comey said he took Trump's words as "a direction" to back off the ongoing investigation -- something he described as "very disturbing and very concerning." Comey also said that he thought that it was a "very significant fact" that Trump asked everyone else to clear the room so that he could speak with him privately.
Comey went on to say that he "understood what [the president] wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn's account of his conversations with the Russians."
While Comey didn't make a judgment call about whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, the actions he described made the case for it.
Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court reporter for the NY Times, even demonstrated that there is legal precedent for an obstruction of justice case based on the very words that Trump used in his conversation with Comey.
3. Comey Testified That He Was Fired Because Of The FBI's Russia Investigation
In the days following Comey's firing, the administration gave differing accounts of their rationale for his dismissal. While the White House initially denied that the Russia investigation was a reason for firing Comey, Trump later contradicted his own administration, acknowledging in a May 11 interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia matter.
Asked today why he thought Trump fired him, Comey repeatedly asserted his belief that the FBI's Russia investigation was the reason for his abrupt dismissal.
Comey said that he interpreted Trump's words and actions in the months before his firing to mean that his job was contingent on his conduct in the Russia investigation, and whether he showed loyalty to the president.
"My common sense told me what's going on here is, he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job," Comey said of the January 27th dinner when Trump told him he 'needed loyalty' from the FBI Director.
Again, while Comey refrained from giving a legal judgment, his words clearly described someone who was attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation - and according to legal experts, Comey's testimony made a strong case that Trump did, indeed, engage in obstruction of justice.
Efforts by the president to hinder an active FBI investigation could be considered obstruction of justice. Such an offense could lead to Trump's impeachment, though Republicans who control both chambers of congress seem uninterested in holding the president accountable.
4. The FBI Was Aware Of Information That Cannot Be Discussed In Public That Would Make Sessions' Involvement In Russia Probe "Problematic"
Comey said in his written testimony that he didn't talk to Sessions about his concerns regarding Trump because he and his top FBI colleagues expected Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation. At that time, news had not yet broken about Sessions' undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador, so one of the questions going into today's hearing was how Comey knew Sessions would recuse himself.
In a short but revealing exchange with Senator Ron Wyden, Comey testified that the FBI was aware of information that could not be discussed in an open session that would make Attorney General Jeff Sessions' involvement with the Russia investigation "problematic."
We already know that Sessions recused himself from the investigation for misleading the Senate about his meetings with Russian officials (as well as his role on the Trump campaign), but Comey's testimony indicates that there is more information about Sessions and his potential ties to Russia that we do not know yet.
Senator Patrick Leahy has announced plans to question Sessions about the Russia investigation when he appears before the Senate appropriations committee next week, so more information on this mystery may be coming soon.
5. Trump Is Almost Certainly Under Investigation - Possibly In Multiple Cases
While Trump and his supporters are touting today's testimony as evidence that Trump is not under investigation, Comey actually never said such a thing. In fact, the hearing raised the possibility that Trump is under investigation for collusion with Russia and for obstruction of justice.
In one exchange, Senator Tom Cotton asked Comey if he thought Trump had colluded with Russia.
"That's a question I don't think I should answer in an opening setting," Comey said, adding: "That [question] will be answered by the investigation, I think."
If the potential that Trump colluded with Russia is a question that will be answered by the special counsel's investigation, then that can only mean one thing: It's being investigated.
Comey gave a similar answer when asked if he thought Trump had committed obstruction of justice. While he refrained from making a judgment, Comey said it was "up to [special counsel] Mueller" to make that determination.
That statement makes it seem pretty certain that Trump is under investigation. After all, there's only one way to determine whether someone is guilty of obstruction of justice: By investigating them.
While today's hearing didn't open the floodgates, it did show that the slow drip of information in the Russia investigation is far from over.