Comey testifies, part 2

Transcript here. You may be interested in my take on the first day of testimony and Comey's media interview after talking to Congress.

Detailed comments below the fold. My overall impression is that we, again, lost out by having this held in a public forum. Comey can hide behind that to avoid answering important questions. He can also hide behind the Mueller investigation. I'd like to see this all public, but getting there requires investigators to be able to ask about classified things so the answers can then be declassified.

Gowdy starts out by getting Comey to admit that he had a conversation with the President shortly after the President took office, was asked by the President to keep it private, and immediately following the conversation wrote a memo and distributed it to his friends and allies in the government.

Then Gowdy points out that Obama commented on the status of ongoing investigations (regarding the Clinton investigation in this case; Obama also did so concerning the IRS investigation, and Gowdy mentions that it also happened in the Petraeus investigation) and Comey admits he did not attempt to communicate to Obama that that was improper.

Comey reflexively characterizes public statements by Obama (which his whole team could see on the media and potentially by influenced by) as normal and appropriate and needing neither correction nor instruction to his team, but his private conversation with Trump (which only he could be influenced by) as both appropriate to violate confidentiality and as potential obstruction of justice.

Gowdy asks whether Trump has the authority (he says "ability" but he means authority) to end an investigation. Comey refuses to answer, claiming it's a legal question he's not qualified to answer. Bullshit. Comey can't answer without admitting that the President has the authority to end an investigation, meaning it is entirely properly for the President to ask Comey to go easy on Flynn and let the case slide -- especially after Flynn has been fired. That's why we have elected officials in charge: to make decisions.

Mind you, Congress could consider that grounds for impeachment if they felt it was inappropriate. But as a simple matter of fact, the President has that power and can exercise it as he sees fit. It is not up to Comey to decide whether it is appropriate or not, unless he chooses to resign in protest, which he did not.

Gowdy goes back through setting up the interview process. Gets Comey to admit they did it without following protocol, without advising Flynn lies would be prosecutable, without suggesting a lawyer, without going through the White House Counsel. In other words, they deliberately sandbagged him.

Jordan asks about the dossier briefing on January 6th. Comey admits they had, just the day before, briefed President Obama on the dossier, and just that morning, briefed the Gang of Eight from Congress on the dossier. So he's not just informing the incoming President about this, he's briefing the existing President and Congress, even before he briefs Trump. And Comey admits that Clapper had laid out how the meeting was supposed to go. (Clapper, remember, is the one who was talking about how the media needs a news hook to report on the dossier; Clapper had just engineered his own news hook).

So why did Comey only brief Trump on the "salacious" parts rather than the more serious (but still completely unverified) claims of Russian collusion to influence the election? Comey says it was Clapper's call to do it that way.

Comey speaking about the dossier briefingI think what it says: that it was salacious and unverified material that a responsible journalist wouldn't report without corroborating in some way. Reporting it straight from the source reports wouldn't be corroborating it.

And yet, Comey took this same material to the FISA court to get warrants to spy on Americans he knew were associated with the Trump campaign, in a way that would open up the whole of the campaign to surveillance (via the two-hop rule). Comey is required by the Woods procedure to verify this material before submitting it to the FISA court, and by his own admission, even after the election, he had not been able to verify it.

Comey admits he was worried about how the conversation would go -- that Trump might think he was trying to "pull a J Edgar Hoover on him". Which isn't surprising, since that's pretty much exactly what Comey was trying to do. Comey says he told Trump it was "unverified", "it wasn't something we were investigating", and then "we were not investigating him personally."

Except those were lies (aside from the unverified part). Comey and the FBI were investigating the claims of the dossier. And their basis for the investigation was an opposition research document produced by the Hillary Clinton campaign, which most certainly did target Trump personally.

Jordan moves forward to the next Comey memo, after Flynn has been interviewed and the FBI "knows" he was lying (except the interviewing agents said he wasn't being deceptive). Trump is talking about Flynn. Comey does not mention the interview or that the FBI had "evidence" the National Security Advisor was "lying" to the Vice President. Comey's excuse was there was an open investigation and so no need to inform the White House. Seriously? Dude, the President is your boss.

The Democrats take over and ask a lot of questions about protecting confidential sources. Never mind that we know who pretty much all of the sources here are and the idea of protecting them is merely a smokescreen to justify redacting information from released documents (the FISA application) to conceal the abuses that took place.

Then they ask about Trump criticizing the national security agencies and how those agencies are supposed to work with the President when they are being undermined. I'd turn that question around. How is the president supposed to trust and work with the intelligence agencies when they are undermining and even prosecuting him?

Johnson (D-Georgia) asks if it's dangerous for the president to comment on pending cases. Let's not forget the many times Obama commented on pending cases. Was it wrong then?

Lots of discussion about the emails between Clinton and Obama on her insecure email server. Notably, we get some new information here:

"Okay. So, again, to review the timeline: June 27th, tarmac meeting between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton. June 28th, we have this exhibit reflecting the emails between Secretary Clinton and President Obama. You have requested reviewing them. You reviewed them. On June the 30th, your chief of staff edits out a reference to President Obama." Left out of the summary but mentioned earlier is that Comey requested the emails at the end of a briefing on the same day that the infamous tarmac summit took place. He says the briefing was unrelated to the tarmac summit, but given that he requested the emails between HRC and Obama at the end of the meeting, and almost immediately edited out references to Obama from his speech, that strains credibility.

What really happened at the tarmac meeting? It seems to have produced a significant ripple effect at the FBI. References to Obama already existed in the speech, so the tarmac meeting couldn't have easily been the Clintons revealing their existence as an argument in their defense. Possibly -- likely? -- it was the Clintons' threatening to use those emails, or their content, as leverage. At any rate, it seems clear that someone decided to cover up Obama's involvement as a result of the tarmac meeting. Comey doesn't really give any hints about what might have driven the change. He says it was just that he didn't want to confirm Obama's email address.

Ratfcliffe asks about memos Comey wrote to himself and gets Comey to admit that some were classified and/or government property subject to his nondisclosure agreement, and that he stored (some) of them in his personal safe, which was not an approved location for classified material. IE, essentially the same thing Clinton was in trouble for doing, just on a smaller scale. Comey refuses to answer, despite repeated questioning, whether he provided classified documents to his lawyers. It seems clear the answer has to be yes.

Some back and forth between Gowdy and Comey about the possibility of tapes. Comey seems to have been panicking about the possibility there were tapes of his conversation with Trump and thought the special counsel might go after them in a way that the DOJ leadership would not. I wonder what would be on those tapes, if they existed?

Gowdy asks about whether Comey considered calling for a special counsel when Loretta Lynch insisted he call the Clinton investigation a "matter". He did not because Democrats, apparently, cannot obstruct justice. Comey claims he did consider calling for a special counsel when Lynch met with William Clinton (the tarmac meeting), but did not do so.

Comey claims he told Yates he would call for a special counsel in the Clinton email investigation "at some point", but obviously never did. This is probably one of the things that panicked the political actors into trying to clean up the Clinton email investigation as fast as possible. I don't think Comey was serious about the threat to call for a special counsel except as a matter of public relations -- at some point, he would have to call for a special counsel.

Comey says that initially there was hesitancy at DOJ about trying to get the laptops used to screen the emails by Clinton's lawyers, but that after he threatened a special counsel, that hesitancy went away. This seems like he's trying to paint the DOJ as subject to political influence, but not Saint Comey.

Gowdy asks whether any of the witnesses in the Clinton email investigation lied; Comey vaguely remembers maybe one of the IT people (Combetta) had an issue. Comey says he wasn't involved in any discussions about whether to charge Combetta with a false statement. The lack of such a discussion in such a high profile case seems, itself, evidence of bias. Surely someone would have brought it up?

Meadows asks about when Comey learned, or was advised of, the involvement of Perkins Coie with Fusion GPS. Comey claims he never heard of Fusion GPS or Perkins Coie and that he doesn't even know how to say "that word", then says "I don't remember that". Clearly backpedaling from a factual answer to a state of mind answer because the latter is harder to prove to be a lie. Then he says he remembers being told Steele's work had been funded first by Republicans opposed to Trump (not correct; the Republicans never funded Steele), then by Democrats. And then he backpedals again: "Maybe someone mentioned it, but I don't remember it. I don't remember the specifics being communicated to me in any way." That's a lot of backpedaling. He knew something and doesn't want to say.

Comey was remarkably incurious about who the "private clients" who funded the research he is going to brief the President on actually were.

Cummings (Democrat) takes over and gets Comey to give a speech about apple pie and the American anti-Trump way.

Gowdy asks Comey about "unverified" concerning the dossier. Comey says he doesn't remember using that word (which I think is a change from last time; certainly he's used "salacious and unverified" frequently, but says the information came from a credible source (Steele -- except he was now working as a paid opposition researcher for a political opponent, so his credibility should be zero). He says "The heart of the Steele dossier is the Russians are coming to mess with our election." That's wrong. The Russians are always trying to mess with the election. The heart of the dossier is that Trump was colluding with Russians to mess with the election, a malicious lie.

Comey says he doesn't remember every seeing initiation documents at all, so he can't remember seeing "Trump campaign" in those documents. If true, he's demonstrating remarkable incompetence. Pretty consistently, though, he's painting a picture by implication that his subordinates never let him see any of the suspicious parts of the investigation -- not the weak initiation documents, not the link to the Hillary campaign's funding, not the mentions of the Trump campaign, etc.

Comey doesn't remember discussions about giving the Trump campaign a defensive briefing about the people they were investigating. He says he would have considered it but doesn't specifically remember that, which means he can't be asked why he decided not to. Obviously, though, giving a defensive briefing would alert the Trump campaign they were under surveillance.

Baker asks about ideas to restructure the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Comey talks about a few and has the gall to say "And the concern, which is a very legitimate concern, is quality control and a risk that in that devolution of authority comes a necessary diminution in the standards. And if you know the FISA process, you know how high the standards are. That there was a danger that, in pushing it out too much to the field, you'd lose some of that rigor." The high standards at HQ that allowed a politicized opposition research dossier to be presented to the court as a verified source in a warrant request?

Comey is asked whether he knew about the Page-Strzok affair. He says he didn't, would not have approved, wasn't sure what he would have done if he knew.

Comey is asked about the Weiner laptop timeline. He says he doesn't know about it, but read in the IG report that there was no indication of a bias either for or against Hillary Clinton. That's not accurate; the IG report said they could not exclude bias as a possibility for the decisions on the Weiner laptop timing.
Comey says he knows someone looked at the image of the laptop. He doesn't know where the physical laptop is (now or ever). (Questioning switches) He can't remember who explained why they hadn't followed up. He said he wasn't aware of the delay until the October briefing about it and suggests McCabe hadn't told him about the laptop in September.

Asked what explanation the team gave for the delay (and he is unwilling to say who gave these reasons in a group discussion), Comey describes their answer as:
"We have had problems with the technology; something was sent down that was corrupted; the team was disbanded; people thought other people were taking action on it."

They didn't have problems with the technology until they actually tried to look at it and couldn't get their automated systems to de-duplicate. "Something was corrupted" maybe refers to that, but it doesn't explain why they hadn't looked at it until then. "The team was disbanded" in favor of investigating Trump, which was one of the major decisions the IG report called into question for bias. "People thought other people were taking action on it" is probably bullshit.

Comey is asked about his understanding of DOJ policy regarding the "gross negligence" standard. He says: "Not that it couldn't be charged, but that it was understood in the legislative history as something closer to willful misconduct, one; and, two, that it had never been charged once in 100 years and never convicted under. So I got that from lawyers in the General Counsel's Office, so Jim Baker, Tricia Anderson, Sally Moyer. I'm sure there were others, as well."

Hillary's conduct in setting up the server and using it to communicate classified information was definitely willful misconduct... but Comey has, himself, personally, demonstrated similar "willful misconduct" in removing classified information from the proper computer systems to his own personal email and cell phone devices. Comey's actions were on a smaller scale, but otherwise, equally culpable. That seems likely to have weighed on his mind as he made the decision not to recommend charges.

Goodlatte asks about other countries that might be trying to nfluence the election. The FBI lawyer refuses to allow Comey to answer, claiming it is within Mueller's purview. So far as we the public know, Mueller only has authority concerning Russia. But there are rumors that Mueller will pivot to a Middle East collusion narrative instead of Russia since he's got nothing on Russia. The refusal to answer seems to confirm this.

Goodlatte asks about defensive briefings and who would be in charge of them. Comey says Clapper, one of the known individuals with a very strong anti-Trump bias.

Goodlatte asks whether the FBI or any other agency ever recorded Trump. Comey says "Not to my knowledge", which is very much not a "No."

Parmiter asks whether Papadopoulos was ever recorded by the FBI. (Papadopoulos says he was, but obviously, isn't quite sure which agency the people recording him were with). Comey says he doesn't know.

Comey is asked whether he authorized any leaks in a specific New York Times article in which he is quoted. He says he did not.

Comey is asked about foreign actors gaining access to Hillary's emails. He says he doesn't know that any did for sure but that he was told we wouldn't be able to say. His subordinates knew that it had actually happened but Comey says he wasn't told or doesn't remember being told, just that it was possible but wouldn't leave fingerprints.

This entry was published Thu Dec 20 07:14:43 CST 2018 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2018-12-20 07:57:39.0. [Tweet]

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