Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony

leave a comment »

Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare:

James Comey’s seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey’s impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I’ll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically—which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do.

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

Comey is explicit that he saw Trump as attempting to enmesh him in an inappropriate relationship at the time. Of the January 27 dinner, for example, he writes that, “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” And it’s hard to read this meeting any other way, at least not as Comey describes it. The President repeatedly asked for “loyalty,” was not satisfied with a promise of “honesty,” and the two compromised only awkwardly over the term “honest loyalty.” Trump specifically dangled the question of Comey’s keeping his job over his head. In their last conversation, on April 11, Comey reports that Trump emphasized to him that “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.”

Throughout the document, Comey reports extreme discomfort with Trump’s behavior generally, and this aspect of it particularly. At that dinner, Comey felt compelled to tell the President that he was not “reliable” in the way politicians expect. He reports that the President’s efforts to engage him in a “patronage” relationship “concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.” He describes the interaction as a “very awkward conversation.”

Remarkably, even before that meeting, Comey was so uncomfortable with Trump that he had already begun writing memos recording every interaction he had with the President and sharing them with the FBI’s senior leadership. After their first meeting, on January 6, Comey recounts:

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

Indeed, it contrasts sharply with his interactions with Obama, whom he admired a great deal. And he makes that point specifically:

I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.

In other words, Comey is saying here how little he trusted Trump from the beginning, and that Trump’s behavior caused him to behave differently than he had in the past.

This brings me to the second broad theme about Trump’s conduct, which is . . .

Continue reading. Full text of Comey’s statement in a scrolling window at the link.

See also “Takeaways From Comey’s Prepared Testimony for the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.”

See also “The critical information in James Comey’s written statement,” Jennifer Rubin’s column in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:33 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s