If you were hoping to learn the truth about Trump’s associations with Russia yesterday during ex-FBI Director Jim Comey’s interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC) on Capitol Hill, you’re among the ranks of the disappointed. Comey’s interview created more questions than it answered, wandering over the Senate’s questions with little in the way of absolutes.
Non-Committal Answers and Refusals
Despite the sheer amount of non-committal answers given, the former Director of the FBI seemed confident, calm and well-practiced. The answers he agreed to give felt genuine, and seemed to come easily (if tensely). That’s no surprise given that lying on the stand amounts to perjury and speaking out against President Trump could seriously jeopardize Comey’s freedom and well-being.
Comey repeatedly refused to answer nearly 20 of the questions asked by the SEC, including queries into exactly what intelligence officers uncovered in the Steele document and whether Comey believed Trump was guilty of colluding with Russia.
Sen. Tom Cotton:
“Russia’s hacking of those e-mails and the allegation of collusion. Do you think Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”
“That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an opening setting.” Comey also refused to address questions inquiring into whether the Trump administration had destroyed documents vital to the case before his dismissal.
Sen. Kamala Harris:
“In the course of the FBI’s investigation did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?”
“I think I’ve got to give you the same answer because it would touch on investigative matters.”
Oddly, Comey also refused to directly address a very confused John McCain’s probing questions about blackmail among the Trump administration and intelligence professionals.
Sen. John McCain:
“Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe, could information exist that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?”
Comey also balked at answering questions about the Trump administration hiding evidence, meeting with Russian administration, and the involvement of the Russian bank, VEB.
What We Learned
Despite Comey’s repeated refusals to answer several questions throughout the interview, there were topics he seemed both willing and eager to answer. This was most obvious at the beginning of the interview, when multiple senators probed into whether he believed Trump was being deceptive early in the investigation.
Comey replied by outlining how he was so concerned the POTUS would lie about their initial meeting that he immediately went to his car and typed up the details on a laptop.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document.”
The former FBI Director’s concerns were large enough that he took the recording a step further, delivering it to a friend in media at Columbia University so that it was out of his hands and accessible to the public. Trump quickly followed the move with confusing and convoluted tweets in which he threatened to release tapes of his and Comey’s conversations during the meeting.
Comey hoped that by releasing the information first, he could supersede Trump’s threats to produce tapes of the conversations, forcing the government to appoint a special counsel.
“I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
This, if nothing else, produced results. Officials appointed Robert Mueller as head of a special counsel just one week later. And Comey, confident in his decision to release the information, confirmed this in the SEC interview with an almost off-the-cuff response; “Lordy, I hope there is tapes.”
Comey also alluded to deception and subterfuge on the parts of both Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s nephew, Jared Kushner, during a February meeting regarding the Flynn investigation. He commented that both Flynn and Kushner seemed to linger in the room when Comey met with Trump, and both parties only departed after Trump requested it of them directly.
“My sense was the attorney-general knew he shouldn’t be leaving. I don’t know Kushner well but I think he picked up on the same thing.”
What isn’t clear is whether the subterfuge was on behalf of Flynn and Kushner or the POTUS himself. Trump’s direct request that Comey drop the entire Flynn investigation further complicates the situation.
“I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took in. I remember saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ as a way of saying, ‘I’m not agreeing with what you asked me to do.’
When the Senate probed into exactly why Comey didn’t bring up his concerns with Sessions earlier, he outlined self-doubt in his ability to prove the concerns via evidence.
“We decided the best move would be to hold it, keep it in a box, document it. …Figure out what to do with it down the road. Is there a way to corroborate it? It was our word against the president’s. No way to corroborate this.”
Comey’s response here sums up the interview as a whole: laden with plenty of conjecture, but just enough potential evidence to make most people raise an eyebrow. The Harvard Gazette points out another risk unearthed in the interview — Trump’s direct request for loyalty from Comey. Though most intelligence officials are expected to remain as loyal to the President of the United States as they possibly can, it is within their duty to expose the truth and root out corruption when necessary. The request could amount to a standard request for loyalty, but it may point to obstruction-of-justice or abuse-of-power issues, too.