Wake Up To Politics - June 8, 2017
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Thursday. June 8, 2017. 516 days until Election Day 2018. 1,244 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
It's a big day, so I'm just giving you a full preview of today's "Political Super Bowl" (tune in at 10am ET if you can)...
SPOTLIGHT ON COMEY: Ousted FBI Chief to Testify Before Senate Panel After decades of government service, former FBI director James Comey entered the national political conversation during a contentious election cycle last year, and hasn't left it since. Comey has emerged as one of the defining figures of the Trump era, credited by some with ushering President Donald Trump into office, before he led the investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and was eventually fired earlier this month.
Since his sudden removal from office, the ex-FBI chief hasn't left the national consciousness, amid constant new reports on his interactions with President Trump while in office. Today, he speaks publicly for the first time, in a blockbuster hearing that will likely emerge as a defining moment of Trump's young presidency and possibly lead to fresh accusations of obstruction of justice. Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 10am Eastern Time; his seven-page opening statement, a full account of his meetings with President Trump, has already been released. The former Director will also face questions from members of the panel, who will all deliver opening statements as well.
In the statement, Comey describes his nine one-on-one conversations with the President since early January, a contrast to the two one-on-one meetings he held with former President Barack Obama in the previous eight years. Comey took notes on each of his interactions with Trump immediately after they ended. Here are the key parts of his testimony:
- January 6: Briefing Comey's first meeting with Trump took place at Trump Tower in New York two weeks before the new President's Inauguration. Comey, along with other intelligence leaders, was participating in a briefing to inform the President-elect on Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
- The then-FBI director stayed afterward to brief Trump on an unverified dossier, later published by BuzzFeed News, which contained salacious information. For the first time, Comey assured Trump that "we were not investigating him personally." Comey writes that he "felt compelled" to document the conversation, and took notes just thereafter in an FBI vehicle outside of Trump Tower.
- January 27: Dinner A week into President Trump's term, Comey writes that he was invited to a White House dinner. Under the impression that there would be others joining them, "it turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room." Trump asked Comey if he planned on remaining in his post, which the latter viewed as "an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship."
- Comey writes that later in the dinner, Trump told him, "I need loyalty." Comey responded: "You will always get honesty from me," leading Trump to add: "That's what I want, honest loyalty." Comey said, "You will get that from me."
- Trump also "expressed his disgust for the allegations [in the dossier] and strongly denied them."
- February 14: Meeting President Trump asked Comey to stay behind in an Oval Office meeting, telling the director: "I want to talk about Mike Flynn," who had resigned as National Security Advisor due to contacts with Russian diplomats the previous day. Trump defended Flynn and asked for the FBI investigation to end: "He is a good guy and has been through a lot. 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." (This has been previously reported, and denied by President Trump last month.)
- Comey did not offer such an assurance, and "implore[d]" Attorney General Jeff Sessions later to "prevent any future direct communication between the President and me," although he did not mention Trump's request about Flynn.
- March 30: Phone Call Over a month later, Trump called Comey to vent about the Russia probe, which he called "a cloud" getting in the way of his agenda. "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia," Comey writes. Trump then asked Comey "what we could do to 'lift the cloud,'" which Comey did not promise to do.
- Then then-Director did once again assure Trump that "we were not personally investigating" him, although Comey refused Trump's request to say that publicly because "it would create a duty to correct, should that change." Trump also brought up "satellite" associates of his who may have acted improperly and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
- April 11: Phone Call In Comey's last conversation with President Trump, the latter again asked about a public statement denying a personal investigation was ongoing and referred to "the cloud" as a roadblock to him doing his job. Comey told Trump he should communicate through the proper channel, the Justice Department leadership. The President responded: "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know." Comey did not ask Trump what "that thing" meant; he was fired exactly four weeks later.
Team Trump has already begun to go on the offensive against Comey. Talking points submitted by the Republican National Committee emphasize Comey's confirmation of Trump's previous claim that he was told that he was not under investigation, while still attempting to discredit Comey by claiming he "has a long history of blatant contradictions and misstatements."
"The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe," Marc Kasowitz, Trump's personal attorney said in a statement. "The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."
Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump group chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, will air an ad attacking Comey like a political opponent, the Associated Press reported. The ad, which will run digitally and on CNN and Fox News, will say Comey "put politics over protecting America," calling him "another D.C. insider only in it for himself," and invoking Trump's favored moniker for the former FBI director: "Showboat." However, Republican members of the committee are asked to press Comey in questioning along with Democrats, and some in the GOP have already commented on Comey's claims. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Wednesday that he "obviously" found Trump's comments to Comey appropriate.
The hearing will be a huge viewing event, a "political Super Bowl," covered by all the cable and broadcast networks. Among those viewers: President Trump himself, potentially. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that "Trump is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer" at the political showdown of the year, and may "offer acerbic commentary during the hearing" via Twitter. His aides have urged Trump against live-tweeting the hearing, hoping the response comes from his outside attorneys and a 60-person war room being set up by the RNC (which was reported on by the Wall Street Journal).
According to Politico, "White House aides are trying to keep Trump busy Thursday morning with meetings so he won't watch TV and tweet during the hearing." But, an official told Politico, "if he wants to watch it, it's not like we can say, 'oh, the TV doesn't work.'" Trump's public schedule includes just a 12:35pm speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalitions Road to Majority Conference and a 3:30pm "Infrastructure Summit" with governors and mayors.
Asked on Tuesday if he had a message for Comey ahead of the hearing, the President replied: "I wish him luck."
--- DAILY DATA: Where opinion stands ahead of the hearing Some data points to keep in mind before Comey testifies and directly contradicts denials by President Trump:
Washington Post/ABC poll released Wednesday
- 61% say Trump fired Comey to protect himself, 27% say he did it for the good of the country
- 72% have some or no trust in Trump's word on Russia, 21% have a great deal or good amount of trust in it
- 55% have some or no trust in Comey's word on Russia, 36% have a great deal or good amount in it
- 56% say Trump is trying to interfere in the Russia investigation, 34% say he is cooperating
Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday
- 34% approve of Trump's job performance, 57% disapprove
- 59% say Trump is not honest, 36% say he is
- 32% say Trump did nothing wrong relating to Russia, 31% say Trump did something illegal relating to Russia, 29% say he did something unethical but not illegal
- 40% say Trump aides did something illegal relating to Russia, 25% say they did something unethical but not illegal, 24% say they did nothing wrong
- 54% say Trump is too friendly with Russia, 38% say he has the right relationship with Russia, 3% say he is too unfriendly
- 68% say they are very or somewhat concerned about Trump's relationship with Russia