James Comey’s testimony was such a big event, even The Price is Right was bumped from daytime television. (AP/Reuters)
US President Donald Trump did not tweet for almost 48 hours, and managed to stay off Twitter for the entire day of former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Apart from being oh so tantalisingly close to a record example of self-restraint for the notoriously tweet-happy President, it says something about the significance of the event and its potential influence on the administration.
Philip Bump tweet: “To set a new record for not tweeting, Trump would have had to have gone 2,756 minutes. He went 2,753.”
At one point, the Commander in Chief was expected to live tweet Mr Comey’s testimony but someone, or more likely a bunch of people, told him to still his restless fingers while the sacked FBI chief delivered his sensational version of his interactions with the President.
“Those were lies, pure and simple,” Mr Comey said about the administration’s claims that he was sacked because the FBI was in chaos and disarray.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document,” he said about his decision to write down every word of their conversations immediately afterwards.
“A really significant fact to me is so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the Attorney-General, the President chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else? And so that to me, as an investigator, is a very significant fact,” he said about an encounter where the President is alleged to have asked him to go easy on ejected National Security Adviser Mike Flynn (who was under criminal investigation at the time).
Here’s Donald Trump’s response to the above, straight off the presses (from the White House rose garden)
On obstruction of justice and James Comey leaking his memo:
“No collusion, no obstruction, he is a leaker.”
On pressure to drop the Flynn investigation:
Q: “He did say under oath you told him to let the Flynn investigation go?”
A: “I didn’t say that.”
Q: “So he lied about that?”
A: “Well I didn’t say that, I mean I will tell you I didn’t say that … and there would be nothing wrong if I did say that according to everything I’ve read today but I did not say that.”
On what happens now:
Q: “So, he said those things under oath, would you be willing to say those things under oath to give your version of those events?”
A: “100 per cent.”
And are there tapes?
“I’ll tell you something about that maybe sometime in the very near future.”
It’s all pretty sexy stuff. But what Mr Comey DIDN’T say is perhaps where we now need to focus our attention
He pleaded “classified” to lots of questions asked by the panel, saying he couldn’t answer in an open session.
A few of the more intriguing responses include this exchange between Senator Tom Cotton and Mr Comey:
Q: “Do you think Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”
A: “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an opening setting. As I said, when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that’s a question that will be answered by the investigation, I think.”
So that’s something Special Counsel Bob Mueller is looking at then?
There’s also this comment from Mr Comey on Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who is under pressure over undeclared meetings with the Russian ambassador:
“Our judgment, as I recall, is that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic. So, we were convinced — in fact, I think we’d already heard the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer.”
And this exchange between Mr Comey and senator Martin Heinrich regarding allegations about the activities of Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner:
Q: “There are reports that the incoming Trump administration, either during the transition and/or after the inauguration, attempted to set up a sort of backdoor communication channel with the Russian government using their infrastructure, their devices, their facilities. What would be the risks … of someone not actually in the office of the president yet to setting up unauthorised channels with a hostile foreign government, especially if they were to evade our own American intelligence services?
A: “I’m not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting.”
Like I said, intriguing. More quirky questions about things left unsaid are raised here if you’re into that avenue of interest.
The key question, obviously, is what happens now?
Well, don’t expect any quick resolutions. The Senate Committee’s work continues, alongside the various other committees that are considering this.
Mr Mueller (who is in the hottest seat in town) is still building his team and there is no deadline on his investigation. However, those in the know suggest he will probably get it done in three months (or so). With August the height of summer and a recess period for Congress, that makes sometime after September 5 the likely time for a report to drop.
Mr Comey has handed his written memos to the Special Counsel, and part of the investigation will now be whether Mr Trump’s “hope” that the FBI would let the investigation into Mike Flynn “go” was obstruction of justice.
“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,” the President allegedly said.
Mr Comey says he took that as a direction from the man who was his boss.
Here’s how two networks took it:
Trump critic and Democratic Californian Congressman Ted Lieu explains it in this tongue-in-cheek way:
Ted Lieu tweet: ‘After watching Comey, I told staff to leave my office except for my CoS @mcevasco. I looked him in the eye & said I “hope” you retweet this.’
Here’s an exchange on that from the hearing:
Senator Jim Risch: “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?”
Mr Comey: “I don’t know well enough to answer. The reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction. 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.”
So, back to the President’s Twitter fingers. In the end, he couldn’t help himself:
Donald Trump tweet: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”
At least Sean Spicer now says the tweets can be read as statements, which means this Twitter BOT is very handy:
And this strap is spot on:
After Mr Comey’s opening remarks were dropped, the GOP was flippant about the seven-page summary:
But newspapers around the country had a field day:
Fifty-six per cent of all Americans believe Mr Trump is trying to influence the Russia probe, according to The Washington Post. Although only 17 per cent of Republicans think so.
So how did pro-Trump media interpret it?
Peruse the headlines from Drudge after the hearing:
Oliver Darcy tweet: “DRUDGE just updated his headlines — this is a good rundown of what narrative in pro-Trump universe will be like”
The testimony was such a big event, even The Price is Right was bumped from day time television.
Fellow North America correspondent Conor Duffy was assigned the enviable task of bar-hopping in DC to get a sense of the mood among locals. Hundreds packed the bars that offered Covfefe cocktails and Russian vodka specials:
Conor Duffy tweet: “Angela says her husband is an FBI special agent and she’s here to support comey – her reaction to the testimony on @abcnews later”
Tough day at the office!
But was the President watching? Yes, according to Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush from the New York Times. Although he only caught about 45 minutes of the proceedings.
But like father, like son, Don Jr took up the tweeting:
Donald Trump Jr: “1/3 Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well. I hear “I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job”
Donald Trump Jr tweet: ‘3/3 Knowing my father for 39 years when he “orders or tells” you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means’
While we’re at it, let’s check in on the rest of the Trump Clan:
Melania and Barron are set to move to Washington on June 14. White House staffers are hoping that the First Lady will be a “stabilising presence” for the President, according to Politico.
Ivanka is gracing the cover of US Weekly with this “bombshell” headline:
Brian Stelter tweet: “”WHY I DISAGREE WITH MY DAD” is the cover of this week’s @USWeekly”
Meanwhile, Eric told Sean Hannity that Democrats aren’t people:
Yashar Ali tweet: “Eric Trump, the son of the President of the United States, says Democrats aren’t even people.”
There’s also a scandal about his charity’s fundraising efforts, according to Forbes, but Eric denies it.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz appears to be not quite finished — no, I don’t mean with his tilt for the top job, just his speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference on Thursday:
CSPAN tweet: “Sen. @TedCruz is cut off in the middle of his remarks at the @FaithandFreedom Coalition Conference. Full video here: http://cs.pn/2r6ayUK”
Dispatch from GA-06
Remember that little congressional race going on down in the suburbs of Atlanta I told you about a few weeks back? Well, it’s getting intense.
It’s already the most expensive house race in history but in the past two months, Democratic candidate Jon Osoff raised $15 million taking his total to over $23 million. According to AJC, he’s spent most of it too. And he may need to with these attack ads coming out — tying him to Kathy Griffin:
Watch this space.
So, while Comey took all the oxygen this week, what else was going on?
1. House Republicans push to begin the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act — Barack Obama’s signature financial reform following the 2008 economic collapse.
2. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue unveiling a new bee hive at the VEEP’s residence:
Sec Sonny Perdue: “Helping to unveil newly-installed beehive at VP’s residence with @SecondLady and my wife Mary. Pollinators like bees are vital for crops.”
3. Acting US Ambassador to China, David Rank, resigning over Mr Trump’s Paris Climate Agreement decision, according to CNN.
5. Mr Sessions supposedly offering his resignation to Donald Trump amid tensions between the pair.
6. Seersucker Thursday — a really weird annual tradition on Capitol Hill:
Seung Min Kim tweet: “I know today is Comey day. But please remember it’s also the day of my fave ridiculous Senate tradition”
Where’s Obama in all this?
Hanging out with Justin Trudeau. Again:
Justin Trudeau tweet: “How do we get young leaders to take action in their communities? Thanks @BarackObama for your visit & insights tonight in my hometown.”
Was it only a week ago that Mr Trump picked a fight with the Mayor of London?
Donald Trump tweet: “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”
Could things get any crazier? Well, we could get our own Lord Buckethead:
Lord Buckethead tweet: “Morning! No, you didn’t dream it. I stood on a stage with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. (And I did a dab). #anewdawnhasbroken”
Phew. What a week.