The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

What We Learned from Comey Thursday

Among certain Democrats, there is a certain faith that at some point in the not-too-distant future, some government entity will unveil smoking-gun evidence that Donald Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 elections. Not everyone who buys into this is as far out there as, say, Louise Mensch, who was last seen insisting that Vladimir Putin was the true force behind last weekend’s London stabbing attacks. The thinking is that at some point, the FBI, or the NSA, or one of the congressional committees investigating will dramatically unveil Trump or someone in his campaign saying to the Russian government something along the lines of, “You help us win the election, we’ll get rid of the sanctions.”

But Thursday we learned that as of May 9, the day James Comey was fired, President Trump was never under investigation by the FBI. (As Senator Marco Rubio pointed out, this is the one piece of information about the FBI investigation into Russia that somehow never leaked. It is hard to believe that the leakers’ decision to withhold the most exculpatory fact is a coincidence.)

Think about it, between Election Day and May 9, that’s a good six months of the FBI digging into Russia’s attempts to influence the election. Is it that the evidence connecting Russia to Trump is proving particularly difficult to find, or is it that the evidence just doesn’t exist?

This is what had MSNBC’s Chris Matthews so surprised — and, we can suspect, disappointed — after the morning’s testimony.

The big story has always been the assumption of the critics of the president — of his pursuers, you might say — is that somewhere along the line in the last year, the president had something to do with colluding with the Russians. Something to do, a helping hand, encouraging them feeding their desire, to affect the election in some way. Some role they played, some conversation he had with Michael Flynn, or Paul Manafort, or somewhere. What came apart this morning was that theory . . . the president said according to the written testimony of Mr. Comey, ‘go ahead and get anybody satellite to my operation and nail them, I’m with you on that,’ so that would mean Manafort, Carter Page, someone like that.

President Trump’s decision-making is rarely predictable, but even by his standards, it would be really strange to see a president encouraging the investigation of a co-conspirator who knew incriminating information about him.

Matthews continued, “And then he also came across today, what was fascinating, Comey said that basically Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation.”

Matthews is referring to this exchange:

Sen. Angus King, Maine: Back to Mr. Flynn, would the — would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?

Comey: No. Well, unlikely, except to the extent — there’s always a possibility, if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring in and squeeze them, you flip them, and they give you information about something else. But I saw the two as touching each other, but separate.

Of course, this could all end with indictments for individuals like Flynn that are unrelated to the 2016 election. As Comey put it, “in any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation, that are criminal in nature.”

But Trump foes didn’t gather in bars yesterday in excitement and full of hope that this all ends in Flynn and/or Manafort and/or Page getting nailed on failure to file the proper foreign-agent registration and compensation paperwork. They’re hoping this all ends in impeachment. Much to their surprise, they ended the day further from that goal than when they started.

Also unforeseen yesterday was how Comey would, out of the blue, paint an unflattering light of Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a “matter,” which confused me and concerned me.

But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, I have to step away from the [Justice] Department if we’re to close this case credibly.

I’m sorry, I thought the “I” in FBI stood for “Investigation.” For what it’s worth,  “a person close to her who requested anonymity” told the New York Times that “the bland term was intended to neither confirm nor deny that the investigation existed.” Except the investigation did exist, and it appeared that Lynch thought it was important that the public not be informed that such an investigation existed.

Despite all this, Thursday wasn’t a good day for President Trump. Comey painted an ugly portrait of the president as flagrantly and shamelessly dishonest, oblivious to traditional limits on presidential power, obsessed with personal loyalty to him, having no regard for the independence of law enforcement and the justice system, petty, micromanaging, erratic, mercurial, and vindictive. This description of Trump is undoubtedly shocking to all of the Americans who were in comas for the entirety of the 2016 election.

Theresa: Mayday! A Bad Night for the Subprime Minister . . . 

What a disaster for the UK Conservative party.

Theresa May will form a minority Government to deliver Brexit in the wake of a disastrous election night for the Conservatives which left the UK with a hung parliament.

Mrs May failed to secure the 326 seats she needed to form another majority government and will now seek to stay in power with the informal backing of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Our Charlie Cooke argues that after steering her party onto the rocks, there’s little reason for May to remain Prime Minister:

What, I wonder, is the case for her staying on? Having become prime minister solely because the last one resigned, she can hardly claim to be indispensable; she was not, let’s say, the obvious or much-desired choice. Having made this campaign about herself and then so spectacularly blown it, she cannot claim a mandate from the people. And, having materially diminished herself, her party, and the prospects for Brexit, she cannot credibly sell herself as a “steady” or “wise” hand. Yes, if she resigns, things will be even more dramatic, and the Brexit negotiations may have to be delayed a few weeks. But what is worse: A month or so of turmoil, or Britain’s sending into battle a mortally wounded emissary? May’s whole pitch was “give me your proxy.” The British people declined to do so. How she can stay is beyond me.

Labour gained 31 seats, running Jeremy Corbyn, who makes Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan.

NSA Employee: ‘I Want to Burn the White House Down’

Dear National Security Agency . . . if somebody like Reality Winner got through your interview process, who the heck are you not hiring? What, did Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi turn down a job offer because he didn’t like the dental plan?

The government claimed that they had found handwritten notes during a search at Winner’s home which appeared to sympathize with Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

Authorities claim another handwritten statement found during a search of Winner’s home allegedly read: ‘I want to burn the White House down and go live in Kurdistan.’

Prosecutors said in recorded jailhouse calls that Winner told her mother how to play her side of the story in the media.

Winner’s notes allegedly contained sympathetic statements on Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, and referenced going to live in a number of countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Mexico. Solari said that Winner had taken a three-day trip to Belize last month and had researched travelling from Atlanta to Tel Aviv in September 2017.

Solari also said that in recorded conversations from jail, Winner had told her mother to ‘play that angle’ with the press that she had been afraid for her life when FBI agents arrested her at her home. In a separate call she also told her sister that she would ‘go out and play the cute, blonde white girl. Braid my hair, going to cry.’

In another recorded call, she reportedly said: ‘Go nuclear with the press — because that’s how Manning got out’ apparently in reference to the recent release of military intelligence leaker, Chelsea Manning.

Nice going with that sentence commutation, Mr. President. Now every NSA employee with an ego and a grudge is going to run that playbook.

ADDENDA: That former NSA employee leaked a report that the Russian military targeted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials.

As you hear these sorts of reports, fanning the flames of the “Russia hacked the election!” narrative, ask yourself . . . where was our government? Where was the Obama administration?

Oh: “Neither former President Barack Obama nor any member of his cabinet warned state election officials of any Russian effort to hack or interfere with the country’s electoral systems, according to the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.”

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