Former FBI Director's James Comey riveted Washington Thursday, as he described in depth his conversations with the President in the run-up to his firing last month.
Comey provided more detail on the revelations from his prepared testimony, explaining in depth his perception of conversations in which he believed President Trump was trying to win a pledge of fealty and to convince him to drop the investigation of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Comey did confirm that Trump was not personally the subject of FBI investigation through the time of his firing, but Trump now faces legal scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller over whether his communications with Comey and the decision to fire the director amounted to obstruction of justice. Comey tried to lay the groundwork for such a charge, noting the lengths to which Trump went to speak to him privately about Flynn. But in his recollection of the conversation, Comey claims Trump told him he "hoped" that Flynn could be let off—rather than a directive. White House aides said Trump was just making small-talk about a former aide he still likes. In the end, it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘hope’ is.
Comey harshly criticized the President, accusing him of lying about the reasons for his firing and suggesting his decision to keep detailed records of his conversations with Trump was because he was concerned Trump may later lie about them. The White House, which had tried to off-shore most of the response to the RNC, pushed back on that accusation, calling it insulting.
Comey did provide two new bombshells Thursday: that he was the source of the leaked memos described in the New York Times about his conversations with Trump, saying he was prompted to give them to a reporter through a friend after Trump tweeted about potential "tapes" of his conversations with Comey. Comey said he was hopeful that if there are tapes they will be swiftly released, believing they will back up his side of the story. Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, accused Comey of violating "privilege" in releasing the memo, and is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate. Kasowitz also denied on Trump's behalf that the president asked for Comey's loyalty or that he drop the Flynn investigation. Both of those would be easily corroborated if there is indeed an Oval Office taping system. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she has "no idea" if there is such a system. And when asked to check, she glibly told reporters,"Sure, I'll try to look under the couches."
Comey also revealed that he was uncomfortable by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's ask that he call the Clinton email investigation a "matter" instead of an "investigation." Republicans are seizing on that moment an opportunity to muddy the investigatory waters. But while they've never suffered from ways to investigate the Clinton emails, both Lynch and Comey are out of office, making it of little practical value.
Other than a couple of tweets, Trump has been silent on the Comey hearings—though aides and his son have been vocal on Twitter. Trump is certain to face questions about Comey Friday afternoon, when he holds a brief press conference with the president of Romania in the Rose Garden.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The hearing is only the beginning of what will be a drawn-out process of multiple, overlapping investigations that will at minimum be a political nightmare for the White House for the foreseeable future. Democrats didn't get the smoking gun they were looking for, and Republicans did some damage to Comey's credibility. The White House breathed a sigh of relief that "collusion" charges against the president were unsupported, but they know Comey's high-profile and detailed assault on the president's credibility will not be recovered from easily. The "cloud," the president allegedly complained to Comey about, is here to stay.
Here are your must reads:
Who Won the Comey Hearing? Russia
Well played, Moscow. [TIME]
Here's What It Was Like Inside James Comey's Hearing
TIME's Tessa Berenson from inside the room
Tech CEOs Cook, Bezos, Catz Said to Attend Kushner-Led Summit
Meeting at White House comes despite Paris climate discord [Bloomberg]
‘I Was Right’: As Trump Watches Comey on TV, Anxiety Yields to Relief
Trump claims vindication [New York Times]
Comey Lays Out the Case That Trump Obstructed Justice Comey Lays Out the Case that Trump Obstructed Justice
The former FBI director said the question is ultimately one for the special counsel, but he helped bolster the case. [Washington Post]
“I saw the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” — Former FBI Director James Comey on potential tapes of his conversations with President Donald Trump
"I can definitively say the president is not a liar. It's frankly insulting that that question would be asked." — White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responding to Comey's testimony
Bits and Bites
Obstruction cases are difficult to build and prosecute [Associated Press]
President Trump's Attorney Will File Complaint Against James Comey [Associated Press]
House Passes Bill to Undo Much of Dodd-Frank Banking Law [Associated Press]
What’s in the Financial Choice Act [Wall Street Journal]
Fiduciary Rule Is Now (Partially) in Effect [Wall Street Journal]