The fired FBI director tells a Senate panel he’s a well-meaning victim of Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who claims President Trump ordered him to end an investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia, admitted he leaked his notes from a private conversation with Trump in hopes of spurring an investigation of the president himself.
This raises the question, Why isn’t Comey being investigated? He has proven himself to be a prolific liar who abused his power in the vein of J. Edgar Hoover but without Hoover’s competence.
For Comey, leaking was revenge for the humiliating, public way President Trump fired him. His leaking to the media of what amount to official FBI documents may itself be unlawful and may violate the terms of his employment as FBI director. He’s not the victim he paints himself as.
Comey’s comments came as he testified for hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of a massive fishing expedition against the Trump administration that should never have been launched in the first place. (A transcript of Comey’s testimony is available here.)
Commentators were all over the map in their evaluations of the political significance of the testimony.
It was a bad day for Trump, retired Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News Channel. Interfering with a federal criminal investigation for a corrupt purpose would be obstruction of justice, he told Shepard Smith on Fox News Channel. Some of Comey’s testimony was damning, Napolitano added, particularly Comey’s statement that he understood Trump was seeking some kind of a quid pro quo.
In response to a question from Sen. Angus King (I-Me.), Comey said during the hearing that Trump’s "hope" that he would "drop" the investigation into Flynn’s connections to Russia reminded him of 12th century English King Henry II’s annoyance with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.
The use of the word “hope,” Comey said, "rings in my ear as kind of, 'will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'" A group of Henry’s followers interpreted the statement as an indication that he wanted Becket dead and they did the king’s will.
But this is weak sauce. It is extremely unlikely a criminal case would arise out of a president’s stated “hope” that a probe be ended, with no actual evidence to back it up. Besides, the ultra-manipulative Comey has already proven himself an unreliable witness possessed of a self-serving memory.
And even if President Trump did order Comey to make the probe into Flynn go away, the president is entitled to do such things.
Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat, made the point that in his testimony yesterday,
Comey confirmed that under our Constitution, the president has the authority to direct the FBI to stop investigating any individual. I paraphrase, because the transcript is not yet available: the president can, in theory, decide who to investigate, who to stop investigating, who to prosecute and who not to prosecute. The president is the head of the unified executive branch of government, and the Justice Department and the FBI work under him and he may order them to do what he wishes.
“As a matter of law, Comey is 100 percent correct,” Dershowitz said.
As I have long argued, and as Comey confirmed in his written statement, our history shows that many presidents—from Adams to Jefferson, to Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to Kennedy, to Bush 1, and to Obama – have directed the Justice Department with regard to ongoing investigations. The history is clear, the precedents are clear, the constitutional structure is clear, and common sense is clear.
In a rush to “get” President Trump, almost all Democrat commentators have “willfully ignored these realities,” Dershowitz said, and in so doing “have endangered our civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
“Just as the president would have had the constitutional power to pardon Flynn and thus end the criminal investigation of him, he certainly had the authority to request the director of the FBI to end his investigation of Flynn.”
Despite the nonstop media hype, there is no criminal investigation of the president underway, a fact Comey confirmed openly in public for the first time yesterday. And there is no underlying crime to speak of. The intelligence reports and newspaper articles alleging Russian interference in the election are based on unidentified sources.
The notes found their way to the fourth estate in an indirect manner.
Comey told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) he took the notes he made from a private meeting with President Trump and gave them to a law professor friend of his who in turn gave them to the media. The goal, Comey said, was to get an investigation of Trump launched.
The notes, like Hillary Clinton’s purloined emails, are property of the U.S. government. Comey claims that during the one-to-one conversation Trump ordered him to end the investigation into Flynn’s ties to Russia. To defend himself and undermine the president after a Trump tweet suggested a recording of their chat may exist, Comey said he felt he needed to get his version of events “out into the public square.”
George J. Terwilliger III, formerly U.S. Deputy Attorney General and acting Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, expressed disgust on PBS, saying he was “saddened by this entire spectacle that we saw today” and going back to Comey’s bizarre presser last summer about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email abuses.
Comey’s conduct at that infamous media event strikes at the heart of the rule of law. On July 5, 2016, he acknowledged the massive body of evidence against Clinton and described it at some length. He said the former secretary of state probably broke the law when she used hacker-friendly homebrew private email servers to conduct official business.
But after airing Clinton’s dirty laundry, Comey then let her off the hook. “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Comey said Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in their handling of classified documents but there was no evidence of criminal intent. He said this even though federal law does not actually require intent in such cases: mishandling intelligence, even inadvertently, is enough to land people who don’t have political connections in hot water.
For example, Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier, a machinist's mate on the submarine USS Alexandria from 2007 to 2012, went to the hoosegow for an apparently innocent infraction of the sort that the military normally deals with administratively. Saucier used his cellphone to snap pictures of the vessel's nuclear propulsion system. For taking photos to show his future children what he did aboard the submarine, Saucier was convicted of felony unauthorized retention of national defense information, sentenced to one year in prison, and given an "other-than-honorable" discharge from the U.S. Navy.
Months after the sentencing, President Obama commuted the prison term of Army Private Chelsea Manning who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables. Hillary Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin have yet to be prosecuted for their egregious mishandling of classified information.
“It smacks of two types of justice systems in the United States,” Saucier attorney Greg Rinkey said in January.
The day after the presser then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed no charges would be laid against Hillary. Lynch had a clandestine meeting with former President Bill Clinton at a Phoenix airport a week before, raising wholly justified suspicions of corrupt bargaining taking place.
Blogger Ace of Spades (@AceofSpadesHQ) mocked Comey for his testimony, summarizing in a tweet, “Comey: Loretta Lynch told me to lie and I didn't write that down, but I wrote down Trump's stuff because I was afraid he would lie[.]”
Terwilliger excoriated Comey for his shameful behavior.
There’s a thrusting that results from this, of the Justice Department and the FBI, into the middle of political affairs that seems to follow Mr. Comey around. He’s become kind of a one-man wrecking ball as to accusations and recriminations against several other major government figures, candidates, presidents, attorneys general. And I hope that all of this will get dialed back. I’d much rather see the Intelligence Committee and [Justice Department Special Counsel and former FBI Director] Bob Mueller continue their investigations and come to some conclusions and then let’s talk publicly.
At the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Comey why he allowed Trump to kick other administration officials out of the room for the conversation about Flynn, something that out of respect for the independence of the FBI presidents don’t generally do.
Now, here's the question. You're big, you're strong. I know the Oval Office and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn't you stop and say, Mr. President, this is wrong? I cannot discuss this with you.
Comey floundered. “It is a great question,” he said. “Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.”
More likely what happened was the cunning then-FBI director knew exactly what he was doing and decided after the meeting that he wanted to hold what he considered to be damning information in reserve to be used against Trump later.
When asked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) if he believed Trump “colluded with Russians,” Comey replied,
It’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting, as I said, when I left we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump but that’s a question that’ll be answered by the investigation, I think.
Comey whined during the hearing about how the Trump administration treated him after he was shown the door.
And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray. That it was poorly led. That the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I'm so sorry the American people were told them. I worked every day at the FBI to help make that great organization better.
Except it has already been widely reported that FBI employees were dismayed by Comey’s bungling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. They didn’t think he was a good leader. They were demoralized after he politicized the agency through his meddling.
As commentator Sean Davis of The Federalist website tweeted, “Comey has worked for three presidential administrations. He's trashed each one [with] narratives in which he was the only honest man around.”
He added, “At some point, it might be time to consider the possibility Comey's a scheming coward who only comes clean when he has nothing left to lose.”