FBI ex-boss to make scathing attack on Trump
Today, James Comey will speak publicly for the first time since being fired from the FBI. His testimony in the Senate is unlikely to reflect well on the president. Should Trump be scared?
In one corner: he’s six foot eight, he’s a mean basketball player, and he has a reputation for bowing down to nobody. He’s ex-FBI Director James Comey. In the other: he’s six foot three, he loves golf, and a friend describes him as “the best counterpuncher in American politics.” He’s President Donald Trump.
The stand-off between the two men enters a new round today, as Comey gives his long-awaited testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Bars in Washington, DC are opening early to screen it; TV networks are interrupting their regular programming to air it. The event has been described as a “political Super Bowl.”
The committee, like the FBI itself, is investigating possible links between Russian officials and Trump’s team. It will grill Comey on his conversations with the president on this subject, which abruptly ended when Trump fired Comey in May. According to reports, Comey is unlikely to go easy on his old boss.
The pair have been at odds since Trump became president. Soon after his inauguration, he asked Comey to pledge his “loyalty,” according to a statement Comey released yesterday. Trump later implied to Comey that the FBI should stop investigating his former aide Mike Flynn over ties to Russia. (The White House denies both claims.)
On both counts, Comey refused to promise anything. He tried to keep his distance from Trump, and complained to friends that the president misunderstands the FBI’s independence. After firing him, Trump described Comey as a “showboat”; in private, he allegedly called him a “nut job.” Comey kept quiet.
Many expect him to hit back today by elaborating on yesterday’s statement. His testimony could give ammo to those who accuse Trump of “obstruction of justice” — a potentially impeachable offense.
Trump is unlikely to take this lying down. His colleagues have told The Washington Post that he is “spoiling for a fight.” The “elite” media’s support for Comey has infuriated him “at a deep-gut, personal level,” says his ally Newt Gingrich. As the day unfolds, there could be tweets.
The gloves are off
For Trump, say his opponents, this may be the knockout blow. Comey is widely respected. His word, plus any evidence he produces, will be taken seriously. If he testifies that Trump tried to interfere in an FBI investigation into his own team, then lied about it, the president is as good as finished.
Hold on, reply others. There’s only so much damage Comey can do. The country has already heard what he is due to confirm, and yet little has changed in DC. In a way, the fight is out of Trump’s hands. Only Congress can impeach him, and the Republicans who control it are showing little desire to do so.
- Should Trump stay on as president?
- How important are personal grudges in politics?
- As a class, list 10 adjectives that you associate with the FBI, and 10 with the presidency.
- Read Comey’s farewell letter in Become An Expert. In 500 words, explain what it reveals about his attitude to his firing.
Some People Say...
“All political lives end in failure.”— Enoch Powell
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- When Trump fired Comey, the official reason was Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server last year. Trump soon contradicted this, saying that he would have fired the director anyway. He has described the FBI’s Russia probe as a “witch hunt.” It is one of six ongoing investigations into the issue; according to The New York Times, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s has “the best chance of producing a credible outcome.”
- What don’t we know?
- Whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials to sway the election outcome. This is the big question — the one the various investigations are looking into. They are far from wrapping up, and we are very unlikely to learn of any big new developments today.
- Yesterday, the president announced his plan to nominate Christopher Wray as Comey’s replacement. Wray has experience in both the Department of Justice and private practice.
- Mike Flynn
- In his statement, Comey stopped short of concluding that Trump had encouraged him to stop the Russia investigation altogether.
- Keep his distance
- In some cases, quite literally. In one White House meeting, Comey stood as far from Trump as possible. See ABC News’s video in Become An Expert.
- Sources close to Comey have told CNN that he will contradict Trump’s accounts of their conversations, but that he will not interpret or pass judgement on the president’s actions.
- Obstruction of justice
- Federal law broadly criminalizes attempts to “obstruct, influence or impede” official investigations. As the law is quite vague, it is unclear whether Trump may have broken it. See CNN’s article in Become An Expert.
- “I’m told by two WH sources that Pres. Trump does not plan to put down Twitter on Thursday,” The Washington Post’s Robert Costa has tweeted.