As nearly everyone in the western world knows, former FBI Director James Comey gave his testimony to the Senate committee today. Or, rather, he gave two testimonies. The first was an open hearing, that is, it was open to the press and therefore the people. It was public. One of the most exciting moments came towards the end, when John McCain was thawed from his cryo-tank and appeared to think we had reached the stage where the president was on the stand, garbling much of a long and drawn-out string of non sequiturs directed at “President Comey.”
Yes, much was made of McCain’s confusing, and apparently confused, line of questioning. However, I believe that McCain may have been trying to raise the specter of illegitimacy in the ongoing Russia investigation as it relates to the election more broadly, or the Trump campaign more specifically. McCain appeared to be trying to suggest that the Clinton investigation, which was a criminal investigation and pertained to her use of a private server while at State, should have remained open and should still be open, as Clinton was a candidate in the election.
What McCain may not have understood, was that that investigation was a separate matter from the other investigations. If Clinton was guilty of, or suspected of, any wrongdoing as a candidate as it pertains to any communications with the Russian government, the implication from McCain’s line of questioning is that Clinton worked with the Russian government to sink her own campaign and to ensure the election of her opponent.
Did you get that?
The broader investigation into the Russian government’s attempts to steer the outcome of the election by engaging in dissemination of propaganda (at least), is separate from the investigation into Clinton’s private server. We know that Russia’s goal was to shape the election in such a way that Clinton would not win, or at the very least that her win would be viewed as illegitimate. Ergo, if Clinton was working with the Russian government during the election, it would be to undermine her own campaign.
The other big news from the open hearing was that Comey’s public press conference to not recommend charges against Clinton was indirectly influenced by Bill Clinton’s impromptu meeting with Lynch on the tarmac. But before anyone gets their red up and decides that, “Aha! It was crooked!” it should be addressed that the decision not to recommend prosecution was already reached. Comey stated that he felt he had to conclude the investigation publicly, so as to show that the FBI was above board, and their decision remained separate and apart from Billy’s runway rendezvous.
As exciting as the testimony was, or wasn’t, the most interesting things to come from the hearing were often not what was said, but what was left unsaid. The second testimony, delivered after 1 p.m. to the same committee, was a closed door session. This would allow Comey the opportunity to answer questions that he could not answer in the earlier testimony due to potentially classified information, or information that was related to any ongoing investigations.
Indeed, Joe Manchin told CNN that Comey did answer the questions that he was asked earlier and could not answer in the open hearing. With that in mind, it is worth taking a look at what those questions are. What follows are the questions, taken from the transcript, and who asked them.
- Burr: “At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?”
- Burr: “When you read the [Steele] dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100% directed at the president-elect?”
- King: “Is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?”
- King: “Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation?”
- King: “What do you know about the Russian bank VEB?”
- King: “In regard to [Trump] being personally under investigation, does that mean that the dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?”
- Cotton: “Do you think Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”
- Cotton: “Do you have — at the time the story [NYTimes Feb 14 ‘Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence.’] was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?”
- Cotton: “There’s a story on January 23rd in The Washington Post that says, entitled ‘FBI reviewed calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit.’ Is this story accurate?”
- Cotton: “But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation [between Flynn and Kislyak] happened and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it in fact was proper?”
- Cotton: “Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you or make false statements to an FBI agent?”
- Cotton: “Did you ever come close to closing the investigation on Mr. Flynn?”
- Harris: “Are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russia officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?”
- Harris: “Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?”
- Harris: “In the course of the FBI’s investigation did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?”
- Harris: “And are you aware of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?”
While it would only prove to be speculative to attempt to address these questions myself, it should be noted that Comey’s tone and demeanor visibly changed when he was asked about the Russian bank, VEB. He was able to publicly tell the committee that he knew it existed, and that was about it.
Most of the other questions, such as whether or not allegations made in the Steele Dossier are true, or the straight-up, “Do you think Donald Trump colluded with Russia?” are sure to get imaginations running. However, it is best to remember that Comey has not been employed at the FBI for nearly a month, and that most of the meat of the investigation will now be handled by the Special Counsel.
If, as many have asserted, we are watching a live-sequel to All The President’s Men unfold in front of us, today was only the teaser trailer.
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