Former FBI Director, James Comey came away from his public testimony before the Senate Intelligence committee with his integrity intact. The Republicans huffed talking points prior to the testimony. They puffed a failed narrative during testimony. But in the end, they couldn’t make his integrity fall.
Republicans hoped to discredit Comey in five main areas and embarrassed themselves on every one of the claims.
They persist in the claim that James Comey contradicts his previous testimony with claims that his investigation was being impeded. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3rd, Comey was asked if the Attorney-General or senior officials at the Department of Justice tried to halt investigations. That wasn’t the issue. For one thing, Comey said he got the implied directive from the president – not DOJ officials. For another, stopping an investigation because the evidence leads no where or leads to a conclusion that suggests there is nothing further to see is one thing. However, stopping an investigation for political reasons, compromises the FBI’s independence. Comey made this point made in previous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as reflected in the GOP’s research.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): “So, if the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?”
FORMER FBI DIRECTOR JAMES 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.”
The GOP goes on to claim that Comey’s assertions are contradicted by other FBI employees and members of the Intelligence Community (IC)
This claim appears to have merit until you consider the possibility and likelihood that others didn’t have the same information as Comey did, nor are they likely to have one on one meetings and dinners with a President seeking a loyalty oath or giving a direction to stop an investigation.
For example, in Thursday’s testimony, Comey said he had the impression Trump was ordering him to stop the Flynn investigation during their February 14th conversation in the Oval Office. He interpreted Trump’s words as an order to stop the investigation. “I took it as a direction… I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.”
This is the proverbial smoking gun. Comey’s perception of Trump’s words spells obstruction of justice.
This conclusion was reinforced by the fact that Trump ordered Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner to leave the room before the discussion took place.
Republicans also point to former CIA Director, John Brennan’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on May 23rd.
Transcript excerpt as stated on the GOP’s website:
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I wanted to follow up on a comment that I made in the opening statement and that is, with respect to a number of the allegations that have been made recently that the president or his aids may have sought to enlist the help of members of the IC or Director Comey himself to drop the Flynn investigation? Have any members of the IC shared with you their concerns that the president was attempting to enlist the help of people within the intelligence community to drop the Flynn investigation?”
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: “No, sir.”
SCHIFF: “Are you aware of any efforts the president has made to enlist the support of intelligence community personnel to push back on a narrative involving the collusion issue that Mr. Rooney was asking about?” BRENNAN: “I am unaware of it.”
Brennan says that no one in the intelligence community shared concerns about efforts by the president to get the Flynn investigation dropped. As lawyers will often say, the absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. The fact that Brennan wasn’t aware of such efforts by Trump doesn’t contradict Comey’s testimony on the events that occurred during his one on one discussions with Donald Trump.
Part of the Republican effort to discredit Comey was in his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. In fact, alleged mishandling of that investigation was the “official” reason Trump gave for firing Comey, until admitting to Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.
They begin by claiming that Comey “greatly misstated evidence and mangled facts that were central to his previous investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Actually, Comey foresaw problems that extend beyond the immediate question of Clinton’s email, should the Russians make that information public. As noted in the CNN article of May 26th that they cited, had that happened, “there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning intelligence sources and methods.”
The Republican logic pretzel gets worse in their claim that Comey used that info as a basis to conclude the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. That’s patently false. Rather, the fake intelligence was a factor in Comey’s decision to make a public announcement that the investigation into Clinton’s e-mails was completed. One may question the wisdom of that decision, but that’s a very different question from accusing Comey of using fake information to stop the investigation.
They go on to try to discredit him with claims that Comey “greatly mistake key facts” in the investigation. The fact is, Comey’s testimony regarding emails Clinton Aide, Huma Abadin, sent to Anthony Weiner’s laptop was inaccurate, and subsequently corrected. How “key” the facts on this aspect of the investigation is debatable.
Finally, Republicans trot out the claim that top Democrats said they lost faith in Comey with some saying he no longer was the best choice to lead the FBI.
Republicans are referring to statements made by some Democrats before the election, regarding Comey’s public disclosures about the existence and status of an FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails as proof Democrats lost faith in him.
There were valid reasons to criticize Comey’s public disclosures about the investigation. In fact, Nate Silver’s analysis showed that Comey’s public disclosures regarding the Clinton investigation probably cost Clinton the election. However, that is also a separate question from whether the investigation itself was conducted properly.
Even if one accepts that Democrats lost faith in Comey, the idea that Trump took Democrats’ concerns were a more significant factor than Trump’s desire to shut down the Russia investigation is preposterous.
One can recognize that Comey made some poor decisions such as the one to publically disclose the existence and the status of the FBI investigation on Hillary Clinton’s emails. One can recognize that because of these decisions, Comey is an imperfect witness. However, he’s an honest one.
However, his integrity remains intact. One cannot say the same for Republicans claiming to seek the truth on the Russia matter, by virtue of their attempts to pre-emptively discredit the testimony Comey offered on Thursday with a smear campaign, complete with talking points that were published on CNN.
If Republicans are truly interested in fact finding, why try to discredit a key witness before they’ve uttered a word?
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.