Comey’s Testimony Neither Condemned or Vindicated Trump and Leaves Much Unanswered

Yesterday was certainly a big day in politics for a lot of reasons but one in particular stood out as former FBI Director James Comey testified publicly for the first time since President Trump had fired him. The hearing, which took place at 10:00 AM EST before the Senate Intelligence Committee, was widely anticipated throughout the political world and continued to make waves even after the hearing was over.

Most liberals were salivating over this hearing, predicting it would be the final nail in the coffin for Trump’s presidency and would be the key to proving their dubious claim that Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice. Certainly, the hearing was in no way flattering for President Trump, but when it came to the expectations of many of Trump’s enemies, it certainly fell short.

Comey did challenge President Trump’s honesty multiple times, claiming that from their very first meeting, he began documenting their conversations because he was concerned Trump might spread lies about what they said that would affect him or the FBI. He also dismissed a lot of the administration’s claims about him and specifically, Trump’s claims that he lost of the trust of his own agents at the FBI. But claiming Trump is a liar isn’t anything new, and it is widely accepted now that President Trump doesn’t exactly adhere to a standard of total honesty and integrity.

However, interestingly, one portion of Comey’s testimony that the media reports didn’t cover at all wasthat near the end, Comey also blasted many of the false reports being circulated by journalists and claimed many of the articles on “Trump-Russia ties” were rife with inaccuracies. He also affirmed publicly that, at least up until he left the FBI, Trump wasn’t directly under investigation and that the FBI was simply involved in a broader investigation seeking to understand how and to what extent Russia influenced the 2016 election.

The bulk of the discussions however focused around the nine different conversations Comey had with Trump. Comey claimed that the conversations and their tone made him very uncomfortable. In one instance, he described how Trump invited him to the White House for a one-on-one dinner and that there, Trump tried to get him to pledge loyalty to him. In another instance, Trump had all his other staff clear the room so it was just Comey and him, where he then proceeded to, allegedly, say that he hoped Comey would drop the investigation into Mike Flynn (Trump’s disgraced National Security Adviser) while in another phone call between the two, Trump supposedly asked Comey to “lift the cloud” in regards to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in US elections.

This is according to memos that Comey meticulously made after each meeting and conversation with the President and Comey’s elaborations on these discussions before Congress happened while he was under oath. Trump has often denied telling Comey to drop the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn and after a short break from Twitter, tweeted this morning that “despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…”

Of course, it is unclear exactly if Trump is referring to Comey’s testimony or rather the press coverage but his defense lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, went so far as to claim that Comey lied about Trump requiring a loyalty oath and requesting he (Comey) drop the investigation into Mike Flynn. This of course is further complicated by a tweet that Trump made on May 12.

Since this tweet, everyone has been calling for Trump to release tapes if they exist, which both Trump and his administration have currently neither confirmed or denied their existence. As for Comey, he responded during the hearing, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” Certainly, if Trump had such tapes, there would be no reason to not release them as it would only serve to vindicate him and support his side of the story. Of course, it is very possible that either Trump had no tapes and it was just a way to threaten Comey or that he does and they would not corroborate Trump’s account of his conversations with Comey.

But at its worst, Comey’s testimony painted Trump as ignorant and did little to strengthen the allegations that Trump was trying to subvert justice. Comey himself noted that Trump said, “he HOPED” Comey would “lift the cloud” or drop the investigation of Flynn because he was a good guy. But while some Republican senators on the committee doubted whether “hoped” was actually a command, Comey said that in the context of the conversation, he felt it was a polite command. The biggest flaw here though is that in all his interactions, Comey never actually told Trump he couldn’t do what he asked or that Trump’s conversations were inappropriate, with the exception of during his last phone call with Trump where he directed Trump to contact him through the White House Counsel and that marked the end of their conversations.

A key defense of Trump and I believe a valid one is that he just didn’t know what he was doing was wrong. Trump has been a private citizen and businessmen for most of his life and his first experience as a public employee is being President of the US. Clearly, Comey should’ve denied Trump’s requests and directly confronted him about the inappropriateness of their conversations. If he had done so and Trump continued to persist regardless, than the fault rests solely on Trump. However, Comey himself admitted that at the time, he didn’t feel it was the best thing to do and simply tried to steer Trump away.

Realistically, if Trump had actually been trying to obstruct justice as Congressional Democrats claim, then why didn’t other members of his administration also pressure Comey to drop the investigation? And even though Trump could’ve blocked Comey from testifying as well as issued a pardon for Mike Flynn to protect him from prosecution, he didn’t. Instead, Trump’s behavior resembles someone who wasn’t aware of the process, was upset that the Russia investigations were hamstringing his administration, and thought Comey was one of his subordinates who could help him out.

If this really is the case, Trump should be using this instance as a learning opportunity rather than going after Comey and trying to deny everything. However, if Trump continues to deny everything and does things like destroying tapes of his conversations with Comey to hid evidence of their conversation, it will become clear that Trump does have the intent of subverting justice.

Certainly, I believe most of the blame rests with Comey for this. He should’ve addressed Trump’s lack of knowledge at the beginning and yes, he may have been fired by Trump if his advice brushed Trump the wrong way. However in hindsight, Comey still lost his job regardless. And this isn’t the first time that Comey has hesitated to act or acted in a way to protect himself. He testified in the hearing that he didn’t stand up to Loretta Lynch (Obama’s Attorney General) when she asked for the investigation into Hillary Clinton to not be called an “investigation” and said that when he leaked his memos about Trump to the press, he did it through one of his friends because he didn’t want reporters hounding him.

Comey’s hearing probably did about just as much damage to himself as it did for Trump, and ultimately, we must wait and see what else Congress and the FBI’s investigations turn up. Should Trump turn out to have lied about his statements, I believe it would be fair to impeach him. But as it stands, much to chagrin of the Democrats, we aren’t any closer to a conclusion that Trump tried to obstruct justice and at best Comey’s testimony cancelled itself out.

Follow Publius Tacitus on Twitter at @PCTacitus

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