Former FBI Director James Comey will soon come in front of Congress to testify – either voluntarily or by way of subpoena from the Senate Intelligence or Judiciary Committees – and his testimony about President Trump, Russia and his now infamous memo will be recounted in history books for generations to come.
Comey was fired by the president for being a “showboat” and is universally maligned in the halls of Congress for his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail saga, but make no mistake: This man is no slouch. Silver-tongued and straight out of central casting, as the president likes to say, Comey is no stranger to high-stakes congressional testimony, and he’s all but unflappable under cross-examination.
When he takes the oath in the upcoming weeks, the challenge that awaits this embattled former FBI director will be his toughest yet. His background in the Justice Department taught him that it was important to make contemporaneous memorandums recounting important conversations, and he apparently did so following an alleged Oval Office discussion with the president about Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser under investigation for his ties to Russia. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president allegedly said in a private conversation, after dismissing Vice President Pence and Attorney General Sessions from the room.
With calls for President Trump’s impeachment at a fever pitch, Comey’s testimony as the FBI director fired by Trump will be a delicate high-wire act. The implications for both men are numerous. The margin for error is slim.
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Did Comey actually tell the president on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation by the FBI for helping Russia meddle in the 2016 presidential election, as stated in Trump’s termination letter? Comey will surely deny having said as much. But when he does deny it, more questions will follow: Why, then, would a man as self-absorbed as Trump seek to obstruct a former adviser’s criminal investigation, instead of his own? Why wouldn’t Trump simply ask the FBI director to call off his own investigation?
When the president allegedly made these dangerous – and possibly criminal – remarks, did Comey advise him that he could not provide him with classified information about a criminal investigation involving his administration? If so, what did Trump say? If not, why didn’t he?
And if Trump really said these things when Comey says he did, why did the FBI director not come forward earlier? If he was so concerned about the possible obstruction of justice, as related by the unnamed source who leaked the memo, wasn’t he legally obligated to report the crime? Didn’t Comey actually commit a crime by failing to do so?
If Comey wasn’t concerned that Trump’s remarks constituted obstruction of justice, what does he now think about Trump’s actions, and aren’t his views shaded by the fact that he was recently fired by the president in humiliating fashion?
It remains to be seen whether Comey will even answer some of these questions, or whether he will aid another layer of complexity to this saga by claiming his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Regardless of how these questions are answered, one thing is certain: We’ll be watching, and Comey’s testimony will be the best television of the day.
Blake A Shuart is a Wichita attorney.