“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
–President Donald J. Trump to F.B.I. Director James Comey
So that settles that, right? In a pop-up symposium at Politico, fourteen lawyers and academics gave their views, ranging from Larry Tribe’s view that it conclusively proves guilt to Eugene Kontorovich’s view that it conclusively proves innocence.
Nobody suggested that Trump’s words were appropriate, which House Speaker Paul Ryan explains away as just his lack of knowledge of governance and protocol. Hey, the guy doesn’t know anything about how government works, about what a president is allowed to say to an F.B.I. director, so he stupidly crossed some lines. He’s a dope, but not a criminal.
The neo-SJW late of SDNY, Preet Bharara, calls that “silly,” because he wants to be relevant.
Silly. DJT knew protocol well enough to attack, rally after campaign rally, the breach of “protocol” in Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Lynch.
Of course, somebody could have just told that to Trump. For his part, Comey heard the words and felt them to be a “direction.”
Sen. James Risch: Words matter. You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There’s 28 words now in quotes. It says, quote, I hope — this is the president speaking — “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Now, those are his exact words, is that correct?
James Comey: Correct.
Sen. James Risch: You wrote them here and put them in quotes.
James Comey: Correct.
Sen. James Risch: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it go?
James Comey:Not in his words, no.
Sen. James Risch: He did not order you to let it go?
James Comey: Again, those words are not an order.
Sen. James Risch: He said, I hope. Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, charging people with criminal offenses and, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?
James Comey: I don’t know well enough to answer. The reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
Sen. James Risch: Right.
James Comey: 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.
The surrounding circumstances, Trump telling Comey’s superior, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and first son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to leave the room so that the 28 words could be spoken in private, also matter. They matter a lot, as it suggests Trump wanted no witnesses to these words.*
Then again, Trump has never been known to use subtlety or nuance as a weapon in his arsenal of persuasion. If this was the case, then why use the word “hope” rather than, in private, come out and tell Comey, “do it or you’re out of here.”
Risch’s cross of Comey was well done, but didn’t get a concession from the witness. Comey stuck to his interpretation of the president’s words. One doesn’t need to use a hammer to make the point that you are the nail, even if Trump, on his best day, seems incapable of using any tool other than a big, stupid, brutish hammer.
Comey never said the interaction amounted to obstruction of justice. However, he clearly felt something inappropriate was happening — that the president of the United States tried to stop an open investigation into one of the former members of his inner circle.
Comey testified as a fact witness, not as an expert or juror. Not only does this suggest his modesty, which adds to the appearance of credibility as a witness, but it wasn’t his place to draw ultimate conclusions. Just the facts, Jim. By saying he felt it was a “direction,” he was providing the foundation for an obstruction conclusion as best he could.
“Yes. It kind of rings in my ears as, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'” Comey said.
“I was just going to quote that,” King responded.
It’s a line that Henry II, the king of England, has been quoted historically as uttering in 1170 during a years-long feud with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.
Those words, some historical accounts suggest, were interpreted by Henry’s men as him wishing for Becket to be killed.
The 28 words certainly have the same feeling as the Henry II quote, which, as Kontorovich points out, was nothing more than Comey’s feelings.
In his written statement, he says he felt “compelled” to take notes, and had a “feeling” that Trump wanted to “create some sort of patronage relationship” but provides no hard evidence for that. Similarly, the testimony Thursday was about Comey’s feelings.
To inadvertently nail this down, out came the survivors of sexual harassment to empathize with Comey’s predicament, which they saw as an analogy of their own.
Victims of sexual harassment often face skepticism, doubts and accusations when they tell their story. That’s part of the predator’s power. But I’m here to tell James Comey, and all the women and men who have suffered at the hands of predators, I believe you.
So what do these 28 words prove? Anything you want them to. There’s an expert, a scholar, a public official, a survivor, who will back you up, no matter which way you come out. And whichever way you come out, you will be absolutely, completely, totally, conclusively right, because that’s what you see in Trump’s words.
While this question of obstruction of justice will never go before a petit jury, it may well go before the Senate on Articles of Impeachment. The 28 words will then mean whatever they say they mean, regardless of what anyone else says. That’s the American way.
*As some, such as Dersh, have argued, there was no need for subterfuge as the president, as chief executive, has the authority to call off an investigation at will, thus making obstruction a legal impossibility. While there is chatter of the mission and goal of “independence” of the F.B.I., there is no law precluding the president from ordering Comey to do as he says. It’s just an arm of the Department of Justice, which is just another federal department like any other. Norms are fine, but they aren’t law.