Go figure. James Comey really did tell Trump three times that he wasn’t under investigation.
Earlier this week, ABC News had reported, “Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.”
Er, no, in fact, Comey’s testimony will affirm that claim from Trump in his statement about the FBI Director’s dismissal.
Prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him… During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.
During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.
I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)
In other words, if at some point in the investigation the FBI did find something that related directly to Trump’s actions, Comey could find himself in a situation like the one he had during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server. That case was closed… and then once they found those e-mails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, Comey had no choice but to reopen it because of the discovery of new evidence that had to be reviewed. He also had no choice but to notify Congress… and then the “Hillary under investigation by the FBI” story started up again.
This probably ought to throw some more cold water on the crowd that expects impeachment to come down the pike because of Trump colluding with the Russians. At least as of the end of March, Comey had seen nothing to indicate Trump had committed crimes.
While this exchange still has the president making comments that most observers of law enforcement and the presidency will cringe at and declare inappropriate, it’s not hard to understand Trump’s perspective. He’s being told by the head of the FBI that he’s not under investigation, and yet the media coverage and buzz around Washington keeps implying he is. Trump wants Comey to publicly declare that Trump’s not under investigation, and Comey’s reluctant because he cannot predict what new evidence will end up on his desk tomorrow.
John Podhoretz asks a fair query: “The question: Why wouldn’t Comey say Trump wasn’t under investigation? Because he might be later? That makes no sense. We all might be later.”
In Comey’s written account, even the president’s comments about Mike Flynn seem somewhat understandable. Trump never says anything so explicit as an instruction to shut down the investigation. It’s just praise and a qualified defense for Flynn and an expression of a desired outcome.
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.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President.
I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.
Inappropriate? Yes. Obstruction? Hardly. What you’re seeing is behavior that is ugly and unpresidential, but not criminal — but that probably won’t be enough for Democrats.
The boss: “In short, this isn’t much of a bombshell and is going to be a very thin reed to try to build an obstruction case on.”
Overall, one gets the impression that the president views himself less as the president of a constitutional republic and more as the dictatorial CEO of a private company. This is understandable, given his long experience in the private sector, but it’s unsustainable. President Trump has to better understand not just the separation of powers but also the constitutional and legal obligations of governance, or the turmoil surrounding Comey’s termination will be but the first of a series of controversies that could well shake his presidency to its foundation.
The narrative the Democrats desperately want is that Trump is under FBI investigation for criminal activity that invalidates the 2016 election, and has committed impeachable offenses. The facts they actually have are a lot less sexy: a president who wouldn’t respect the FBI’s independence and couldn’t understand why the FBI Director couldn’t publicly exonerate him when he wasn’t under investigation. But those facts are ugly enough in what they say about Trump’s ability to run a government that inspires confidence in the impartial administration of justice.
When You Do It, It’s ‘Greed,’ When They Do It, It’s ‘Financially Ambitious’
Over on the home page, I point out that the politicians who most frequently denounce that they perceive as others’ “greed” think nothing of taking high six-figure or seven-figure sums to write books.
According to his latest U.S. Senate financial-disclosure forms, Bernie Sanders made more than $1 million in 2016. The vast bulk of Sanders’s earnings came from advances from publishers and book royalties: He received $795,000 in payment for Our Revolution, which hit number three on the New York Times Best Sellers list. He was paid $63,750 for his forthcoming Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution, and made $6,735 in royalties from sales of his 1997 memoir Outsider in the House…
For a moment, put aside the question of how many politicians write their own books, or use a ghostwriter. Do any of them ever feel any guilt about accepting a fortune for the relatively mild labor of committing words to paper? Do any of them ever say to their publisher, “You know, I don’t think I really deserve this. You should pay me less money”?
Let it be known far and wide that I support enormous payments to book authors, out of principle and naked self-interest. But Sanders, Clinton, Obama, and Cuomo have suggested that wanting too much money for your labor hurts the country as a whole.
Obama said in a 2010 speech, “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” One wonders if Penguin Random House representatives were tempted to quote this back to the Obamas’ agent at any point during negotiations about the Obamas’ advance.
Are professional athletes greedy and overpaid? They’ve spent their entire formative years working on one skill, can get cut at any time, and they’re just one torn ACL away from their playing days suddenly ending. Are Hollywood actors overpaid? Well, aren’t they what separates big-release, heavily hyped hits from the direct-to-video films? Are rock stars overpaid? How much would you pay to attend a concert of a cover band compared to the real thing?
In a world with so much uncertainty, why shouldn’t anyone creating a good or perform a service seek out the highest compensation possible?
In other words, if these Democratic politicians can justify their own desire to make a lot money… why do they demonize other people who do the same thing?
ADDENDA: The polls close in the United Kingdom at 10 p.m. local, 5 p.m. Eastern time. Our friend Andrew Stuttaford offers some final thoughts here, finding Theresa May at times disappointing, but concluding that for “far-left Jeremy Corbyn, it remains a disgrace that he has come as close to 10 Downing Street as he has.”