Yes, Thursday’s must-see hearing featuring former FBI Director James Comey was about pursuing the truth of whether President Donald Trump directed him to shut down an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
It also created an opportunity for ambitious politicians, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California eagerly stepped into the spotlight. Shedding the image she had as California attorney general for being overly cautious, Harris introduced herself to a worldwide audience as a former prosecutor and immediately seemed to compare Trump’s conduct to an armed felon.
“In my experience of prosecuting cases, when a robber held a gun to somebody’s head and said, ‘I hope you will give me your wallet,’ the word ‘hope’ was not the most operative word at that moment,” said Harris, among those being mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
She asked a series of questions on any secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians (Comey said he couldn’t answer in public), and another series of queries on what Attorney General Jeff Sessions did after he recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election (Comey also declined to go into detail).
Harris did get Comey to say that former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor on Russia, should have full independence – something she couldn’t get Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to pledge Wednesday. Harris’ office sent reporters a transcript and video of that verbal sparring, which became a thing on social media and landed her on NBC’s “Today” show.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who appears likely to seek a fifth six-year term next year, used her experience. While she had the advantage of being among the first questioners on, Feinstein extracted the quote of the hearing.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said of his meetings with Trump.
We do, too. That may be the only way to resolve this historic he-said, he-said. After Comey’s testimony under oath, Trump’s private lawyer flatly denied that the president asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, or to pledge loyalty.
Feinstein also inquired why Comey didn’t immediately tell Trump it was wrong to ask about the Flynn investigation. Proving how difficult it is to stand up to power, even if you’re the 6-foot-8 director of the FBI, Comey replied that maybe if he was stronger he would have, but he was too “stunned.”
Thursday’s two-hour-plus hearing produced other riveting moments and some big headlines, even though Comey’s detailed seven-page written statement was released by the committee on Wednesday.
Comey testified that he wrote detailed memos of his meetings with Trump because he feared the president would lie. He directly accused the president of lying about him and the FBI to justify firing him, which forced the White House to say Trump doesn’t lie. That doesn’t happen every day.
Comey confessed that he asked a friend to leak the contents of one of those memos to the press, believing it might lead to a special prosecutor. It worked, portraying Comey as a political operator who knows the ways of Washington. But Trump’s lawyer accused him of “unauthorized disclosure” of private communications with the president.
While Comey said Trump was not personally under scrutiny as part of the Russia probe, he said he believes Trump fired him to affect the investigation.
The former FBI chief also testified that Flynn was in legal jeopardy when Trump talked to him, but it’s not for him to say whether it amounted to obstruction of justice. He also said, however, that he’s “sure” Mueller is looking into it.
That’s a legal issue. Eventually, it could also be a political one – whether Trump’s conduct rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor that demands an impeachment trial in the House.
The Comey hearing didn’t fully reveal the truth, but it certainly raised the prospect that our president abused his power and can’t be trusted. And California’s senators took a hand in helping make that point.