Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, James Comey might have exposed the height of his self-righteous hubris today. While he appeared self-serving and mean-spirited in his bitter recriminations toward his former boss, he also abandoned all pretense of intellectual honesty when he ventured into the mechanics of phraseology interpretation. Indeed, his bald-faced arrogant superiority in the face of so many missteps over the past year was truly stunning.
To set the stage, Mr. Comey repeated conversations he had with the President regarding the FBI investigation of General Flynn. According to Mr. Comey, the President expressed “hope” that the Director could see his way clear to bringing the Flynn investigation to an end. According to Mr. Comey, this is a direct quote from the President: (Politico)
I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is good guy. I hope you can let this go.
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.
These statements by the President have been out in the public for several days now. This has given brilliant legal minds such as Allen Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley the opportunity to weigh in on whether the President crossed the line into obstruction of justice by expressing his personal hope: (Fox News)
Former FBI Director James Comey’s written statement, which was released in advance of his Thursday testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, does not provide evidence that President Trump committed obstruction of justice or any other crime. Indeed it strongly suggests that even under the broadest reasonable definition of obstruction, no such crime was committed. The crucial conversation occurred in the Oval Office on February 14 between the president and the then director. According to Comey’s contemporaneous memo, the president expressed his opinion that General Flynn “is a good guy.” Comey replied: “He is a good guy.” The president said the following: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this thing go.” The Comey statement may provide political ammunition to Trump opponents, but unless they are willing to stretch Comey’s words and take Trump’s out of context and unless they are prepared to abandon important constitutional principles and civil liberties that protect us all, they should not be searching for ways to expand already elastic criminal statutes and shrink enduring constitutional safeguard in a dangerous and futile effort to criminalize political disagreements.
First and foremost, I am perfectly willing to accept Comey’s account in this hearing. However, even accepting those representations as true, they did not describe a crime or an impeachable offense. Comey confirmed that Trump actually agreed that it would be a good idea for the Russian investigation to go forward and not be terminated artificially. Comey also confirmed that Trump only express a “hope” that the Flynn investigation would end — a statement that Trump made repeatedly publicly. He also confirmed that Trump was primarily asking him to make public what he had already told Congress — that he was not under personal investigation.
It seems Mr. Comey is on an island by himself with his personal definition of “hope”, which might be explained away by his personal animus more than his lack is intellect.
FEINSTEIN: You told the president, I would see what we could do. What did you mean?
Mr. Comey’s reply:
COMEY*: It was kind of a cowardly way of trying to avoid telling him, we’re not going to do that. That I would see what we could do. It was a way of kind of getting off the phone, frankly, and then I turned and handed it to the acting deputy attorney general.*
Mr. Comey described that answer as basically a brush-off, to avoid saying the hard thing.
We have all heard this reply more than we’d like. It can be taken at face value. Most accept its literal meaning to be:, “I will find out what I can do to assist you.” Often, upon hearing that reply, one comes away with optimism that something will get accomplished. The timing and means might not be clear, but limited optimism can be inferred. At the least, one can expect the person to look into giving assistance to the request.
But Mr. Comey. He expects you to take his interpretation at face value. Forget the fact that this could be understood as leading the President on, forget the fact that Mr. Comey could have just said “No Sir, I can’t do that.”. Mr. Comey deferred with a comment that wouldn’t and couldn’t be met with argument.
Mr. Comey can’t have it both ways. He can’t convince us “hope” means anything but hope; and he certainly can’t convince us he wasn’t shoveling a bit of manure toward the President in his reply. Perhaps Mr. Comey would have been better served riding off into the sunset, knowing this manufactured sordid mess will eventually come to a conclusion, and allowing history to settle the matter. Instead he has shown himself to be a small and petty man during this episode, much to the dismay of many former admirers.
The FBI can do better than this. The FBI needs to do better than this. Over the past year, this man has been shown to himself to be duplicitous, slippery and treacherous, wanting only to hold on to his job and willing to do whatever it takes to do that. One can only “hope” Christopher Wray rights the FBI ship.