When James Comey’s opening statement for the Senate Intelligence hearing was released, many were shocked by the former FBI director’s accounts of his meetings with the President. The most scandalous part was Comey’s allegation that Donald Trump demanded loyalty from the onset, telling him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
Comey insisted that the FBI needed to remain independent, but after the forced resignation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump called upon Comey once again to request he cease any investigations regarding the matter. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Was it a casual statement or a direct order? During the hearing, Comey was clear about how he interpreted Trump’s words: “I took it as direction.”
Comey chose his words carefully but was also surprisingly candid. He revealed that he started writing memos in part because he felt Trump could not be trusted: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document.”
He hit back hard at the administration’s treatment of the FBI, saying: “The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
An FBI director calling the President a liar is a huge deal. And Comey went on to reject Trump’s stated excuse for his firing, saying that it was clear that his dismissal was due to the ongoing Russia investigation.
However, Comey also provided some fodder for Republicans and Trump supporters. First, he confirmed that he did in fact inform Trump, on three separate occasions, that he wasn’t personally being investigated.
Then he revealed that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch requested that he refer to the Clinton investigation as a “matter” rather than an investigation, which prompted him to make his infamous statement during the election.
Most surprisingly, Comey revealed that his now notorious memos were initially leaked by the former FBI director himself. The main line of attack for the Republican party regarding the Russia investigation is to focus on the leakers rather than the leaks, so this is a great opportunity to further villainize Comey.
For now, Republicans are standing by their man like Tammy Wynette. As long as they control both chambers of Congress, impeachment is extremely unlikely. Even if the Democrats gain control during the 2018 midterm elections, impeachment is a slow and arduous process.
It may have been shocking to hear James Comey describe his interactions with Donald Trump, but nothing he said was particularly new information. There were no bombshells nor smoking guns.
For those who believe Trump’s interactions with Comey amounts to obstruction of justice, then the hearing will only strengthen that belief. But if you believed that Donald Trump did nothing wrong before the hearing, then Comey’s testimony probably didn’t do much to change your mind.
Let’s look at the timeline of the Trump presidency in the context of his impeachment odds.
Support for Trump’s impeachment is currently higher than his approval rating, but while the Republicans control the House and Senate, Trump’s fate will largely be up to them. The Republican base has remained by Trump’s side, so turning on their leader is a huge risk for any sitting Republican.
Of course, if new information comes out this could all change very quickly. But Comey’s testimony only confirmed what had already been revealed by anonymous sources rather than provide any new information. For this reason, Trump’s impeachment odds are relatively unchanged.
The Clinton email scandal found a way of popping up time and time again throughout the hearing. Most of the time, it concerned Comey’s handling of the investigation. But it’s clear that the case is far from settled in the minds of many Republicans.
James Comey admitted that he was responsible for the partial leaking of his memos. According to the former director, he did so as a private citizen and the memos were his private possession. The Republicans will probably see it a little differently, and could potentially call for action against Comey. We’ve seen how tough the current administration has been on leakers, so he may be in for a wild ride.
Comey revealed that he expected Sessions’ recusal for reasons he could not discuss publicly: “Our judgment, as I recall, is that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
There’s clearly more going on beneath the surface when it comes to the Attorney General, and rumor has it he’s already offered to resign.
Aside from the minor revelations on Trump’s unofficial loyalty program, one of the most concerning things to come out of the hearing was John McCain’s inability to make any sense. Apparently the former GOP nominee can’t handle his late-night baseball anymore.
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