I know you are seeing all sorts of headlines about the transcript of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was released this afternoon and will be given Thursday — you know, that it’s a “bombshell,” and so forth. What I see is a clear path for a defense by President Trump against charges that he obstructed justice.
There is nothing in there that we don’t already know, but there is additional context which may be exculpatory toward Trump.
First of all, Trump’s request to Comey about the Flynn investigation was made the day after Flynn was fired. Trump appears to feel bad about the decision, and the pleading on Flynn’s behalf seems more an act of human compassion than corruption.
From Comey’s notes on the conversation with Trump:
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “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.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.”
Note also that the president leaves the ball in Comey’s court. He does not order him to stand down. He says he hopes Comey can let the matter go. This could, conceivably, be interpreted as him saying that he hopes the evidence doesn’t exist against Flynn and that he hopes Comey can wrap things up. It’s inappropriate, for sure, but it doesn’t seem to be obstruction of justices to me. At the very worst, it’s pressure. But not obstruction.
Also, the testimony makes clear that, as Trump claimed, Comey assured Trump more than once that he was not under investigation. That Comey wouldn’t say this publicly appears to be something that was seriously bugging Trump, because he felt it impeded his ability to do his job.
He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated.
This is important because it suggests one reason that Trump fired Comey. Much has been made of reports that Trump suggested to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that he fired Comey to end the Russia investigation.
The Times reported:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
In Trump’s statement upon firing Comey, he was clear to note that Comey had assured him he wasn’t under investigation. In the context of his concern about being under investigation, the statement to the Russians suggests the “pressure” that was “taken off” was not the entire Russia probe, but his feeling that with Comey gone, he could make clear that he himself was not under investigation.
Unless there is proof that Trump sought to end the Russia probe at FBI once Comey was removed, I’m not sure there is proof that he fired Comey to do so.