James Comey’s Testimony: ‘Comey Was Playing Chess’

Trump’s defenders will be trying to portray Trump’s pressuring Comey to drop the Flynn investigation as an isolated incident, a president who simply didn’t know any better going a bit too far trying to get a friend off the hook.

.. The president asked Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to pledge his loyalty and to shut down one part of the investigation. When the director didn’t comply, he was fired.

And the intelligence committee hearing on all of this proceeded like it was just another partisan fight about tax cuts. The word “surreal” comes to mind.

.. the specific takeaway is actually something we already knew: Comey said: “I take the president, at his word, that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.” Comey was clear Trump didn’t ask him to stop the Russia investigation. But the president wanted to change the course of what the F.B.I. was doing. In this context, whatever his rationale, and whether or not he broke the law, is that acceptable conduct for an American president?

.. including a cryptic reference by Trump to the “the McCabe thing,” suggesting that our president might have his cross hairs on the acting FBI director.

.. The statement by Trump’s lawyer that the president feels “completely and totally vindicated” by Comey’s testimony was particularly bizarre given that Trump and the White House had both flatly denied the president ever made such a request. True, Comey’s testimony confirms that as of March 30, the F.B.I. wasn’t investigating Trump himself, but that’s hardly proof of innocence. After all, as Comey points out, that could change.

.. David French describes Comey’s account of the exchange in which Trump asked him for loyalty and concludes:

“There’s no serious argument that this is appropriate behavior from an American president. Imagine for a moment testimony that President Barack Obama or a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton had a similar conversation with an F.B.I. director. The entire conservative-media world would erupt in outrage, and rightly so. The F.B.I. director is a law-enforcement officer, loyal to the Constitution, not the president’s consigliere.”

.. The Department of Justice has long taken the position that criminal charges can’t be brought against a sitting president because that would “undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions”

.. Attorney General Jeff Sessions couldn’t bring charges even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.

.. an aggressive accusation that the Trump administration “defamed” him and the agency to justify his firing. “Those were lies, plain and simple,”

.. Comey wants to be providing the facts, and his gut reaction — “disturbing” — while leaving the legal conclusions to the senators questioning him, and to Bob Mueller

.. Rich Lowry’s argument in Politico that Comey’s willingness to talk about ongoing investigations helps explain why Trump thought he could ask Comey to publicly say that the president himself wasn’t under investigation.

.. there something to the underlying idea, that Comey himself scrambled the rules for what should and shouldn’t be public, in the context of a highly politicized F.B.I. investigation?

.. how telling is it that the former director of the F.B.I. testified that he felt he needed to document every encounter with Trump because, given “the nature of the person,” he felt Trump might lie? He actually used the “L” word!

.. Trump is right about the “cloud” hanging over him. Comey set a bad precedent last summer and I hope the F.B.I. ditches it.

.. Senator Marco Rubio’s line of questioning, is that the defense of Trump is taking form

.. One Comey subtheme is Sessions’s failure to protect the F.B.I’s independence from the White House.

.. it sounds like Sessions is more mixed up in the Russia investigation than we know.

.. And if it turns out the campaign assisted Russia in any way, that’s a political crime that would make the Watergate break-in look benign.

.. He didn’t order Comey to shut down the whole Russia investigation, he merely asked Comey to shut down the inquiry into Flynn

.. I’ll stipulate that much of Comey’s conduct strikes me as bizarre: The vicarious leaking of his memo probably tops that list, and his reason for not alerting Sessions of Trump’s misconduct, at a time when Sessions was still overseeing the Russia investigation, is pretty thin.

.. I’m still getting my mind around Comey’s statement that he asked a friend (Dan Richman, a Columbia University law professor has confirmed he was that person) to leak Comey’s memo about Trump to the press in order to trigger the appointment of a special counsel. Wow! Trump doesn’t play chess, but that’s what Comey was doing. It also suggests that he didn’t think the Justice Department should handle the investigation through normal channels.