Comey’s Testimony: A Limited Dissection

  • Media inaccuracies
  • Comey’s position on leaker
  • On political pressure
  • Comey’s plan
  • Obstruction?
  • Comey’s silence
The following is a news analysis and commentary

I know a number of government officials and employees who like and respect former FBI Director James Comey. Much has been written about how damaging his Thursday testimony was for President Trump. It’s easy to find articles such as these on NBC, in the Washington Post and in The Atlantic.

The fact that Comey was willing to give testimony that sometimes reflected poorly on his own behavior doesn’t necessarily mean he told the truth on all matters, but seems to weigh in his favor on the honesty scale. The following is a compilation of some of my questions, comments and observations after reviewing his testimony.

Former FBI Director James Comey

Comey’s testimony exposed major news media inaccuracies

1. Intercepted calls

Comey testified that a widely-circulated New York Times report was false. The article began with: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.” (As of this writing, I cannot find a correction issued by the Times.)

2. Comey’s supposed request for more resources

Multiple anonymous sources had claimed in news reports that Comey was fired after signaling he was stepping up the Russia probe by asking the Justice Department for more resources. Justice Department officials repeatedly denied that. In a press release Thursday night, the Department of Justice noted: “Despite previous inaccurate media reports, Mr. Comey did not say that he ever asked anyone at the Department of Justice for more resources related to this investigation.”

NBC had quoted anonymous “Congressional and law enforcement officials.”

The LA Times had quoted “two anonymous officials.”

The New York Times had quoted “four anonymous Congressional officials.”

3. Comey telling Trump he’s “not under investigation”

Comey testified that he, indeed, privately assured President Trump three times that he wasn’t under investigation. That confirms what the President claimed in his letter firing Comey. Yet many news reports and pundits scoffed at the time, and even incorrectly stated that the President was telling a “lie.”

Among those who were wrong (excerpted from AP and US News and World Report on May 10 that stated the President’s “claim” was “questionable” and “if true… would be a startling breach of protocol”):

“Several former Justice Department officials and federal prosecutors…doubted that Comey would have spoken in the terms used by Trump, or even offered any assurances at all.”

Peter Zeidenberg who “prosecuted public officials on corruption charges for the Justice Department’s public integrity unit”:

Comey would not ever, in my opinion, say this to Trump…Wouldn’t happen.–Peter Zeidenberg, a Justice Dept. public corruption prosecutor

Zeidenberg continued, “It is an ongoing investigation; there is no possible way that Comey could a) know that Trump was cleared of any misconduct at this stage of the investigation and b) it would be inappropriate for the FBI director — or any agent — to advise a potential subject of an investigation of their status directly.”

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, who served in the Obama Justice Department:

[Trump’s] self-serving assertion was completely implausible. To put it bluntly, it appears to have been a blatant lie.—Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe

Tribe continued, “It would have violated well-established DOJ rules and policies for the director to offer any such assurance to anyone, especially the president. In addition, given Comey’s dependence on the president for retention of his role as head of the FBI, offering that assurance would be highly unethical and at odds with Comey’s reputation as a man of integrity.”

Given the facts and the original reporting, it would seem to beg a follow up examining Comey’s admission which, according to Tribe and Zeidenberg, was at odds with ethics.

(Time to update this PolitiFact)

Watch and read Comey’s Thursday testimony yourself

On Political pressure

Comey testified that his boss, then-attorney general Loretta Lynch, directed him not to call the Hillary Clinton email probe an “investigation,” but to refer it as a “matter”– which Comey said was an “inaccurate” characterization. “That gave me a queasy feeling,” he testified. However, Comey says he did it anyway and, as bothered as he says he was, he didn’t report the political pressure to any authority.

Comey previously testified that he was so upset that Lynch met with former President Bill Clinton on a Phoenix tarmac on June 27, 2016 during the Hillary email investigation, it prompted him to make the decision to go public to explain his reasoning on why Hillary would not be charged. Again, as bothered as he now says he was, he didn’t take steps to report to an authority and continued to serve as FBI Director.

Read Thursday statement from President Trump’s lawyer

Comey’s plan?

Based on his testimony about his meeting with the President, it appears Comey may have been executing a plan (or perhaps contingency plans in the event he was questioned or his job threatened):

1. Comey kept secret what he says was an improper “directive” the President supposedly issued at the meeting, even failing to raise the issue with the President.
2. Instead, Comey secretly wrote down his negative interpretation of the conversation in a memo, he says, and held the memo secretly.
3. Comey says he then made sure his work product memo was unclassified so that it could be easily accessed in a future, theoretical investigation against Trump.
4. Once fired, Comey leaked the memo to the press through a third party to prompt appointment of a special counsel.

Leaking the Memo

Comey’s stated reason for leaking the memo doesn’t entirely make sense to me.

Comey said that after President Trump suggested there might be a “tape” of their conversations, “I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape. And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square.”

Comey also testified, “It… occurred to me in the middle of the night — ‘holy cow, there might be tapes. And if there tapes, it’s not just my word against his on — on the direction to get rid of the Flynn investigation’.”

It’s unclear why the possible existence of tapes prompted Comey to anonymously leak his memo, especially since the tapes would presumably prove his point better than an uncorroborated memo.

Comey further testified that one motive of leaking his memo was that he hoped it would prompt appointment of a special counsel.

I didn’t [leak my memo] myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked [Columbia law school professor Daniel Richman] to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” Comey testified.

In other contexts, before documents such as Comey’s personal memo are released to the public or press, all “stakeholders” (in this case, that would include the President) are afforded the chance to weigh in on whether they want to exert privilege or make the case for redactions. Comey secretly leaking his memo to the press through a third party deprived the President of this routine opportunity.

Read about the Columbia Law School professor Comey enlisted to leak to press

Comey’s past comment about leaks

These are some of the comments Comey has made in the recent past about leaks:

“It is frustrating when the FBI refuses to answer this committee’s questions, but leaks relevant information to the media. In other words, they don’t talk to us, but somebody talks to the media.”

“Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
COMEY: Never.”

“COMEY: There have been a variety of leaks — well, leaks are always a problem, but especially in the last three to six months.”

“COMEY: But if I find out that people were leaking information about our investigations, whether it’s to reporters or to private parties, there will be severe consequences.”

“In October, I sent that letter [reopening Hillary Clinton investigation] only to the chairs and rankings. Yes, did I know they really going to leak it? Of course, I know how Congress works, but I did not make an announcement at that point.”

Obstruction?

Many refer to allegations of “obstruction of justice,” but for that to be at issue, wouldn’t there have to be actual “obstruction”? Comey testified that he didn’t “obey” Trump’s alleged “directive.” At worst, it seems as though the allegation would be “attempted obstruction.” As bad as that would be, it’s worth noting that there’s a big difference. (Someone who asks someone to rob a bank that never gets robbed… wouldn’t be charged with the same crime as he would if the bank actually got robbed.)

Preorder my new book: The Smear

Comey’s silence

Whether it was his former boss, Loretta Lynch, or Donald Trump’s supposed interference, Comey remained publicly silent about these breaches at the time and stayed on the job.

He had what seemed like an opportunity to speak up about the alleged Trump obstructionism during May 3 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but remained silent about it. Comey was questioned by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

HIRONO: So if the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?
COMEY: In theory, yes.
HIRONO: Has it happened?
COMEY: Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that — without an appropriate purpose. I mean, where oftentimes they give us opinions that “we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it.” But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.

Preorder my new book: The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think and How You Vote

Share
  •  
  • 1
  • 2
  •  
  •  
  •  
    3
    Shares

23 Responses to “Comey’s Testimony: A Limited Dissection”

  1. Yvette Jew
    June 11, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Wow! This is a concise, thorough, fact-based analysis. Thank you for posting it. I shared it on my FB page because a lot of my friends should read it.

  2. CWK
    June 11, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    Your fairness and integrity make you very unique in today’s world of biased reporting. You are an American treasure, and I am grateful that you are still investigating, still writing, and still believing that Americans deserve the unvarnished truth.

    • Arvidd
      June 11, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

      Many still seem to prefer, perhaps because of conditioning and comfort level, the untruthed varnish.

  3. Broeck Oder
    June 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    Terrific analysis! Thanks, Ms. Atkisson, for the way you do your work.

  4. Peter Boddie
    June 11, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    It used to be that a man was called a “leaker” if he cried during movies.

    Not that I know of anyone like that. —Passionate Pete

  5. Holman Wertz
    June 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    I am emailing to friends your article. Great. Thank you. Why do you think he threw Loretta Lynch under the bus? Did he think he needed to explain to his FBI and to us his sloppy HRC case? Why tell us he was the leaker? He quickly gave the excuse ‘need for special counsel’, but ….was he desperate to frame the situation in his favor before it became known he was the leaker?

  6. Mac Mc Reybolds
    June 11, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

    The Powerline blog has an interesting post on Angler by Barton Gellman in which he supposedly quotes extensively from a memo written by Comey about a private meeting with President Bush after the Ashcroft incident. Interesting since Thursday he testified he didn’t write memos after meeting with Bush or Obama. If being “queasy” made him write about Trump, how about “queasy” about Lynch’s request?

  7. Suzy Que
    June 11, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Ms. Attkisson – regarding: “Leaking the Memo

    Comey’s stated reason for leaking the memo doesn’t entirely make sense to me.

    Comey said that after President Trump suggested there might be a “tape” of their conversations, “I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape. And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square.””

    Didn’t the NYT quote bits of this leaked document BEFORE Comey says he had a midnight revelation and leaked it?

  8. Jason
    June 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

    If there was one thing I noticed among this and over ensuing impeachment talks by the lower echelon Democrats and radical base, was that the upper echelon and top Democrat operatives seemed to be subdued if not silent on pushing these matters except in the course of fund raising. The reason for this is that top Democrats knew and still do, that pushing deeper into all of this will lead back to the DNC , donors, and the outgoing administration. They knew the ideologically enraptured and enraged media and radical leftist base would stay hooked, and that their circling and gnashing of teeth like sharks to chum was all they really wanted. Now, is this all really to derail Trump’s agenda or limit his effectiveness, because they knew there was never going to be an impeachable offence, so that the O legacy would remain intact or was this all out of spite, a massive ‘I spit in your hamburger” tantrum by childish, petulant and amateurish cadre of entitled ivy leauguers stomping their feet and refusing to take their ball and go home after losing the election? I actually believe it is more the latter.

  9. Chris Riley
    June 11, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    In my opinion this article is yet another example of ideal journalism from Ms Attkisson.

    William E. Boeing, the founder of the airplane company had a plaque in his outer office with this quote from Hippocrates:

    Hippocrates said: 1. There is no authority except facts. 2. Facts are obtained by accurate observation. 3. Deductions are to be made only from facts. 4. Experience has proved the truth of these rules.

    If Mr. Boeing were alive today he would certainly be pleased with Sharyl Atkisson’s work.

  10. Stan Welli
    June 11, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    Congress needs to bring Loretta Lynch before a committee–forewith!

    Don’t weep for Comey–it’s been reported that he now has a $10 Million book deal to consider. See:
    http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2017/06/leaker-james-comey-offered-10-million-book-deal/

  11. Charles Moore
    June 11, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

    I direct to the production team at FULL MEASURE. I’m a big fan. I would like to see all of each show. But the broadcast on the internet always does something to prevent watchers from seeing all of each story. A re you aware of that ?
    Charles Moore
    Tampa, Fl.

  12. Bill Comeau
    June 11, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    Sharyl has put together the most clear-minded forensic analysis of Comey’s testimony that I have read.
    If only the pundits and reporters in the mainstream media could be so objective and methodical in interpreting the reliability of their own “anonymous sources” before trumpeting sensational but ultimately false headlines.
    There is more to dissect, especially investigating Comey’s claim that he did not prepare memos related to his meetings with Bush and Obama.

  13. Rod
    June 11, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

    I recall that after the Clinton-Lynch airplane meeting and before Comey’s announcement of no charges, the Clinton campaign announced that, if she was elected, Hillary wanted to keep Lynch on as AG. Sounds like an attempt at a quid pro quo to me. Also, there were media reports that individuals in the Justice Dept. were keeping the Clinton campaign informed on what was going on in the Hillary email investigation.

  14. Kathy Adamski
    June 12, 2017 at 1:36 am #

    The limited nature of the subjective analysis in the introduction (i.e.,”weigh in his favor”) creates bias despite the objective reporting that follows.
    “The fact that Comey was willing to give testimony that sometimes reflected poorly on his own behavior doesn’t necessarily mean he told the truth on all matters, but seems to weigh in his favor on the honesty scale.”
    Consider that if he knows unrevealed corruptive behavior still hangs over him, he would forge sympathy now, which he did elsewhere and it was purported to be a lie. The timing of his leak debunks why he did it since it was reported prior to his reason: Trump’s tweet.
    As more is revealed, people will forget facts before they forget feelings.
    I think Comey is in a precarious position due to his aspirations. They all are.

  15. John Huettner, Esq.
    June 12, 2017 at 1:52 am #

    Wonderful analysis, Sharyl. All of it fact based.

    You know, the way journalists used to do things.

  16. tjandersen
    June 12, 2017 at 2:35 am #

    Comey is one of many point men for the swamp. He is also a political agent provocateur shilling for the swamp.

  17. ata777
    June 12, 2017 at 8:10 am #

    Sharyl: based on his own testimony about leaking, do you think Comey is now a suspect in Mueller’s investigation–assuming that investigation includes the only known felonies committed to date? Or does Comey’s consultation with Mueller indicate he is either in the clear, this investigation is a politically-motivated fraud, or that Mueller has a gargantuan conflict of interest for which he should recuse himself?

  18. inspectorudy
    June 13, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

    I remember reading where some of the FBI agents were very unhappy that Comey refused to let them use subpoenas during their investigation of hillary’s e-mail scandal. Yet he says that he would never restrict or undermine any investigation. He also says that he didn’t leak the memo personally for a variety of reasons. What were they? What did he think his job was when the new president asked him something he thought improper. Wouldn’t the normal thing for him to do would have been to tell the president that he felt uncomfortable and that this was out of bounds? Is it his job to play “Gotcha” with his new boss? The man looks to me like he set up the FBI as his private domain and the president was a threat to that power. He is waaaay too political for that job
    !

  19. stylin19
    June 14, 2017 at 10:59 pm #

    “I didn’t [leak my memo] myself for a variety of reasons”

    yet no one thought to ask “Hey – what were the other reasons….?”

  20. Al Pecherer
    June 14, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

    Hello, Sharyl. I want to express my profound admiration for your courage and tenacity. You have serious guts.

    re: 3. Comey telling Trump he’s “not under investigation”

    a: “….Comey would not ever, in my opinion, say this to Trump…Wouldn’t happen.–Peter Zeidenberg, a Justice Dept. public corruption prosecutor…..

    b: ” [Trump’s] self-serving assertion was completely implausible. To put it bluntly, it appears to have been a blatant lie.—Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe

    Tribe continued, “It would have violated well-established DOJ rules and policies for the director to offer any such assurance to anyone, especially the president. In addition, given Comey’s dependence on the president for retention of his role as head of the FBI, offering that assurance would be highly unethical and at odds with Comey’s reputation as a man of integrity.”
    ———
    Both of these quotations embed within themselves the tacit assumption that ‘Comey would never reveal [aspects of] an ONGOING investigation’ [which to my non-lawyer sense is probably true] BUT IF THERE NEVER WAS an investigation….then an investigation NEVER STARTED or NEVER OPENED and so the notion of an “ongoing investigation” likewise does not exist. Comey has testified that Trump was “never under investigation” to at least 30 members of Congress, so there cannot be raised eyebrows over the supposition or implication that Trump asked Comey to violate his integrity. Nor did he state “Trump was under investigation between Feb 01 and May 30 and we found nothing so closed the file”….. Comey didn’t say “Trump is not under investigation *at this time*” he said Trump was NEVER under investigation. (Indeed….I am doubtful that if indeed there was an investigation going on that Comey would not have so widely revealed it to so many Congresspeople under precisely the same rules of official integrity.) I mean, generally the FBI in my experience is extraordinarily tight lipped to typical reporter questions “is XYZ under investigation?” Or am I wrong? Except this guy Comey in my opinion has obliterated that standard.

    Sorry for the long winded post. If there NEVER WAS an investigation, Comey has nothing to agree or refuse to reveal.

  21. Thomas Schenk
    June 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    I am a retired Federal agent with 25 plus years on the job. I have been unable to fathom the whys and wherefores of the things Mr. Comey has done as FBI Director. The general public is not familiar with the inner workings of the justice system and so speculates about the whole affair. As one who has worked in the system as an investigator I am beginning to suspect there is an ego behind the things he has done…damaging individuals on both sides of the political spectrum…and placing himself directly in the spotlight, desired or not. I suspect this only because I cannot determine any good reason for his behaviors…when all the facts are in…maybe we will be able to discern what his intentions were in violating long standing policies and practices of the FBI.

  22. NVcrone
    June 16, 2017 at 12:45 am #

    I have listened to the testimony and the word Mr. Comey used was “direction”, “I took it as a direction”. I keep seeing the ‘directive’ inserted and believe they connote different meanings. Twice you have used the word ” directive” in quotes. Please consider.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.