Initial thoughts on Comey’s testimony

Here are some of my takeaways from the Comey testimony (I missed most of it as it transpired, but have read the transcript).

First, Comey’s testimony falls far short of presenting a case that President Trump obstructed justice. (More on this below).

Second, that being so, the most important takeaway from Comey’s testimony is that Trump was never under investigation during Comey’s time as FBI director. Contrary to what many in the left-wing media are now claiming, this was a central anti-Trump talking point until now.

Third, Comey says he took President Trump’s statements about the Flynn investigation as a “direction” to drop the investigation. However, the words Comey attributes to Trump, and Comey’s subsequent conduct, render the former director’s inference highly questionable.

Stating a hope or a desired outcome, or even exerting pressure to see that outcome occur, is not issuing an order or directive. And if Comey thought he had been directed to drop an investigation, it’s quite likely he would have resigned (as he threatened to do in 2004 when he thought the Bush administration was behaving improperly — a point made by Sen. Tom Cotton), complained publicly, or complained to the Attorney General or the White House Counsel. He did not.

Comey also admitted that after Trump expressed his hope regarding the Flynn investigation, Trump never raises the matter with him again, even though the Flynn investigation continued. This suggests that, if Comey thought he had received a directive to stop the investigation, his impression turned out to be wrong. (The firing of Comey does not appear to have been about Flynn, but rather about the “cloud” over Trump’s presidency and, in particular, the director’s unwillingness to say that Trump isn’t being investigated).

Fourth, it seems clear to me that Trump did pressure Comey to drop the Flynn investigation (at least insofar as it pertained to his statements about contacts with Russians). His statement of a desire to see it dropped, coupled with statements emphasizing the importance of loyalty, amounts to exerting pressure. But, as Andy McCarthy has emphasized, pressure is not obstruction. I think it was wrong for Trump to have exerted pressure on a government official investigating his friend, but it was not unlawful.

Fifth, Comey has painted an unflattering picture of President Trump’s character, including his veracity. The fact that Trump fired Comey provides a possible motive for painting that picture. However, I would not dismiss Comey’s picture on that basis.

In late 2015 and the first part of 2016, many of us formed an unflattering view of Trump’s character, including his veracity. Since that time, Trump won the Republican nomination, defeated Hillary Clinton, and has done a goodly number of conservative things, from a personnel and policy standpoint.

These accomplishments have caused some of us to regard Trump more highly than we did a year ago. However, they don’t have very much to do his character (or at least those aspects of it many of us found objectionable) and they have nothing to do with his veracity.

But Trump’s character flaws are well-known. Comey’s dim view of the president doesn’t matter much, and wouldn’t even if so many Americans didn’t take a dim view of Comey.

Thus, in the end, I don’t think Comey’s testimony will have much impact on the Trump presidency, especially if Trump can be restrained in his response. However, scandals and overblown non-scandals often unfold in unpredictable ways, making instant analysis like this post a poor guide to the future.

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