Wake Up To Politics - June 9, 2017
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Friday, June 9, 2017. 515 days until Election Day 2018. 1,243 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
THE COMEY HEARING: What We Learned Missed former FBI director James Comey's blockbuster testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday? I've got you covered. Here are the main takeaways from yesterday's hearing:
Comey accuses the White House of lying At multiple points throughout the hearing, Comey accused President Trump and his aides of using incorrect language to describe their interactions. The ousted FBI chief told the panel that he "never initiated a communication with the president," contrary to Trump's claim in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt that Comey requested to have dinner with the President. In Comey's telling, Trump called him during lunchtime to invite him to dinner — forcing him to call off a date with his wife, "one of the all-time great excuses for breaking a date," Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said; in his opening statement (summarized in Thursday's edition of Wake Up To Politics), Comey said that he expected others to be in attendance, but the dinner was only for two. According to Comey, the President asked the then-Director for his loyalty during the meal. "In retrospect, I love spending time with my wife and I wish I would have been there that night," Comey said.
Comey was also asked about Trump's denial that he asked the FBI director to end the bureau's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; "I don't believe" that was a true statement, Comey told the committee.
Finally, Comey took issue with the White House's "shifting explanation" of his firing. "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," Comey said. "Those were lies, plain and simple."
Comey took "I hope you can let it go" as a direction The former FBI director repeatedly elaborated on his feeling that President Trump directed him to end the Flynn probe with the words "I hope you can let it go." However, Comey made clear that "those words are not an order" nor an explicit direction. Still, "I took it as a direction," Comey said, adding: "I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it." The witness even invoked Henry II to make his point: "It rings in my ear as, well, 'will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest,'" a reference to a story about a priest who was killed after the English king uttered that phrase, even if he didn't order the assassination.
Pressed by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) on whether Trump's expressing frustration about the investigation to Comey was any different than his frequent tweets on the subject, Comey underlined Trump's clearing of the room before he made the request as suspicious. "There's a big difference in kicking superior officers out of the oval office, looking the FBI director in the eye and saying I hope you let this go," he said, calling the meeting a "very disturbing thing," although he declined to say if he viewed the request as obstruction of justice.
Comey also revealed his impression on how Sessions and Kushner felt as they left the room, saying "my sense was the Attorney General knew he shouldn't be leaving" and "I think [Kushner] picked up on the same thing." Although Comey testified that he later asked Sessions not to allow Trump to call a one-on-one meeting with him again, he did not inform the Attorney General (or anyone in the Justice Department) of Trump's Flynn request. "Maybe if I were stronger, I would have," he said.
Comey didn't trust Trump from the beginning Comey wrote in his opening statement that he crafted contemporaneous accounts of each of his nine one-on-one interactions with President Trump, which he didn't do after meetings with former Presidents Geoge W. Bush or Barack Obama. The former FBI director explained that "a combination of things contributed to that decision, including "the nature of the person" he was dealing with. "I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document," Comey said, adding: "I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened."
Comey thinks he was fired because of Russia In the hearing, Comey also spoke for the first time about why he felt he was removed from his position. The ousted director said he believed the Russia probe played a role in his firing, referencing Trump's own comments to NBC that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he decided to fire Comey. "I take him at his word there...It's my judgment I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Comey said. Why? "I've seen the president say so."
Comey orchestrated the leak of his memos Another interesting revelation that came from Comey on Thursday: previous reports on the contents of his memoranda on his interactions with President Trump can be traced back to the former FBI director himself. Comey explained that he "woke up in the middle of the night" after Trump tweeted about the prospect of tapes of their conversations and decided to ask a friend of his, later identified as Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman, to "share the content of the memo with a reporter." Why did Comey do this? "I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel," Comey said.
Comey said he was hoping to corroborate his account of the interactions— and wouldn't be afraid if there were tapes as well. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," he declared. The former FBI chief also defended his decision "as a private citizen," although President Trump and his allies later seized on the disclosure as improper (more on the Trump response below).
Comey vs. the New York Times The former FBI director also weighed in on some of the press accounts of the Russia investigation, saying: "There have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff but about Russia that are dead wrong." In particular, Comey objected to a New York Times story from February on contacts between Trump associates and Russia: "in the main, it was not true," he said, later telling Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that it would be fair to characterize the story as "almost entirely wrong." Comey did not explain his opposition to the report, which the Times said they stand by.
"The challenge, and I'm not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information," Comey said, "is the people talking about it often don't really know what's going on, and going on are not talking about it."
Comey on the Clinton email probe Finally, Comey was also asked repeatedly about the other leading scandal of his tenure at the FBI: his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Comey explained why he went public with his decision in the probe, pointing to the actions of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch creating a need to "protect the credibility of the investigation."
Comey said that his decision was influenced by Lynch's infamous tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton, the husband of the investigation's subject, and by her direction for him "not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter." This order "confused me and concerned me," Comey said, adding that he even considered calling for a special counsel to be appointed. According to the former Director, Lynch was telling him to use "inaccurate" language to "align" with the campaign, giving him "a queasy feeling."
Trump Fires Back Despite speculation that he would live-tweet the hearing, President Donald Trump remained quiet on Thursday, as he watched Comey's testimony surrounded by aides. On Friday morning, his 46-hour Twitter silence was broken: "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" Trump tweeted.
Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz also invoked Comey's admission on "unilaterally and surreptitiously" orchestrating the leaking of his memoranda in a statement following the hearing. "It is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this Administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications," Kasowitz said. "Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of those leakers." Accoding to CNN, Kasowitz plans to file a complaint with the Justice Department and Senate Judiciary Committee against Comey due to his decision to leak the memos.
Kasowitz's statement focused on Comey's public confirmation that Trump is not personally under investigation, as he wrote in his opening statement. However, he challenged the veracity of other parts of the testimony, adding that "the President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comeystop investigating anyone" and "never told Mr. Comey, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty' in form or substance."
The Trump Administration is essentially challenging Comey to a credibility contest, one he seemed to welcome on Thursday. "As I used to say to juries, when I talked about a witness, you can't cherry pick it. You can't say, I like these things he said but on this, he's a ten liar," Comey said. "You have to take it together. I've tried to be open, fair, transparent and accurate." The former FBI director added: "In looking at any witness, you look at consistency, track record, demeanor, record over time, that sort of thing."
White House Schedule President Donald Trump will continue his infrastructure push with remarks at the Roads, Rails, and Regulatory Relief Roundtable at the Transportation Department headquarters. Later in the day, Trump will meet with the President of Romania and hold a joint press conference, his first opportunity to answer questions since Comey's testimony. The President will then head to his Bedminster, New Jersey residence, where he will spend the weekend.
Also today: Vice President Mike Pence will campaign with Republican candidate Karen Handel today ahead of the Georgia special election later this month, where Handel's opponent Jon Ossoff has taken a lead in recent polls.
Trivia Wednesday's trivia question was: who beat Vice President Pence in both of his unsuccessful congressional campaigns? The answer... Rep. Philip Sharp (D-IN), who served in the House from 1975 to 1995. Pence was Sharp's Republican opponent in 1988 and 1990; the former lost both runs, by 13% and 19%, respectively. In 2000, Pence would win election to the seat, which he held until becoming Governor of Indiana in 2013.
I received almost 300 answers to the trivia question (nearly all of them correct), a pretty remarkable response. I'm going to list the first 10 respondents here, because I can't name you all, although I appreciate everyone who participated. I'm going to keep thinking of different ways to play so more people can be recognized.
GREAT JOB to the initial correct respondents... Hayden Hatch, Kent Bottles, Matt Walsh, Frank Teltsch, Pam Cohn, Patricia Guadalupe, Jerry Kline, Leslie Ungar, Karen Osborne, and Christopher Loyd!! And to everyone who played along!