Ex-FBI Director, James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee received an extraordinary amount of media and public attention. People took time off from work and gathered in bars to watch Comey testify. His testimony would be central to the investigation of fired National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn and more importantly, the possibility of Russian interference in the presidential election. Many assumed that Comey’s testimony would be the smoking gun for both situations and tie up loose ends. They even believed that Comey’s testimony could be a stepping stone in impeaching President Trump for ‘obstruction of justice’. Yet, the situation is far from clear cut- both Comey and Trump accuse each other of falsifying facts and distorting the narrative. The discrepancies between Comey’s oral testimony, the White House version and his prepared statement cannot be ignored. From a broader perspective, what does Comey’s testimony actually reveal?
In March, President Trump tweeted that the Russian interference in the presidential election was a false narrative propagated by the Democrats “as an excuse for running a terrible campaign”. However, James Comey begged to differ and remains adamant that Russian interference swayed the election.
During Comey’s time as Director of the FBI and before his sudden dismissal, he oversaw the investigation into the possibility of Russian collusion. President Trump faced multiple accusations of simply firing Comey to ease the pressure Trump felt over Russia. Furthermore, James Comey’s statement alleged that Trump asked him to overlook investigating the actions of Michael Flynn who is accused of being a key player in colluding with the Russians. Earlier this year, Michael Flynn had to resign due to misleading the Trump Administration on his communications with Russia. This fuelled immense media attention which propelled James Comey and his testimony to Nixon’s Watergate status.
What is even more compelling is that there is no significant evidence for Russian interference in the American election. Despite what James Comey’s written statement alleged, his hearing proposed a softer version of his earlier narrative. He stated that he “understood” Trump to be wanting him to “drop any investigation connected” to Flynn’s conversations with the Russians. Comey also stated that he did not believe Trump had asked him to overlook the investigating Russian collusion. This is very different to an explicit order to overlook an investigation on Flynn. The White House also refutes these claims by stating that the President never asked Comey to overlook Flynn’s actions.
Both Comey and Trump have entertained the existence of tapes to corroborate their version of what occurred. However, there is still no concrete evidence for the existence of such tapes. Therefore, the question remains, if there are no discernible facts regarding Russian collusion, why are we still pushing a dead narrative?
Trust, Loyalty and Liars
The discrepancies between Comey’s statement and oral hearing keep piling up. His statement revealed that President Trump explicitly stated that he needs “loyalty” and he “expects loyalty” which are clear signs of political pressure. However, his oral hearing produced a softer version where he stated that Trump was trying to build a relationship of loyalty by asking him to remain as Director of the FBI.
Comey testified that during the election, Loretta Lynch who was a key player in the Clinton campaign, asked him to call the Clinton probe “a matter” rather than an “investigation” in order to complement the campaign’s description of it. Compared to Loretta Lynch’s explicit exertion of political pressure, Trump’s expectation of ‘loyalty’ seems too vague to amount to political coercion.
During Comey’s time as Head of the FBI, Trump was not under any formal investigations. Soon after Comey was fired and humiliated, he suddenly felt the need to formally investigate Trump and possibly charge him with ‘obstruction of justice’. Comey claimed that he ‘leaked’ information to the press in order to get a special prosecutor working on the case. However, the information he ‘leaked’ was published in the New York Times weeks ago. Therefore, he had not added anything new to make a successful case against President Trump.
Furthermore, the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is currently in charge of the Trump-Russian probe, allowed Comey to leak things to the press is also questionable. Mueller, as a very proficient prosecutor would have never allowed his star witness to reveal information to the press if there was a realistic prospect of conviction against the President.
It seems as though James Comey’s motivations for accusing the Trump administration are much more personal than in the interests of justice. His humiliating dismissal seems to have propelled a less significant issue of ‘who said what’ into Watergate proportions. President Trump is also to blame for throwing fuel into the fire by tweeting about ‘tapes’ and hyping up the investigation. By adding an additional informal Twitter response to the White House statement, Trump is at risk of causing confusion and de-legitimising himself even further. For President Trump, twitter silence and carefully measured press releases is key during such troubling times. He should let the court process run its courts because it is guaranteed to treat him and Comey fairly. So far, Trump need not be worried at all as Comey’s testimony failed to live up to be the ‘smoking gun’ the investigation needed.
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