Steak or garnish? 6 jaw-dropping moments from the Comey-Trump show
By TATIANA PROPHET
James Comey is the anti-Trump, and it appears many -- who are tired of this strange theater that has overtaken our political arena –- hope he is the antidote. He is everything that Trump is not. He speaks in sentences of 20 words or more. He rattles off impeccable syntax and manages to elucidate adult FBI topics for listeners of all stripes. He is polite, deferential, and especially now that he is no longer in government, very willing to answer questions (except ones that would give an impression that anybody at all was innocent in the Trump investigation – in case he had a “duty to correct”).
So from Wednesday, when he released his prepared written testimony, to Thursday when he verbally recounted several Orson Welles-worthy scenes set in the Oval Office, the nation was riveted.
The brains of Americans on both sides pleaded: Give us something new! Anything to relieve the tedium of “officials familiar with the matter” telling us in our nation’s top papers, yet again, that this investigation is being conducted, oh yes, being conducted every day -- but never appearing to give us any sort of, well anything to digest.
So were we satisfied? Most of us have something to munch on. There’s brain food for both sides. And as would be expected, one man’s steak is another man’s garnish.
1. Trump said something true. In a tweet! Comey confirmed that he had indeed told Trump on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation. While he didn’t specify whether it was criminal or counterintelligence, Comey confirmed on Thursday that it was neither – and that this is still the case. The first occasion was at Trump Tower, when Comey volunteered the information, and the second and third were after Trump took office. Yet Comey never told Trump the reason why the American public did not appear to need to know this. He did explain it in his testimony, however: that if the FBI announced this idea – something that all senators knew – they would have a duty to correct the record should that fact change. This idea is important to the right because it establishes a motive for Trump to be asking Comey “what we could do to lift the cloud” that was impeding his ability to act on behalf of the country.
Oddly, the idea that Trump was not under investigation is practically the only thing that hasn't leaked out via anonymous sources, a point made by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Yet all the senators on the committee knew. And, hilariously, even Lester Holt in an exclusive interview cast extreme skepticism about the President's claims (see video below). Polifact and Factcheck dot org ruled it unprovable as well, even though there were reports out discussing the fact that the Russia collusion investigation was a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal one. This would lead to a logical conclusion that the President himself was not under investigation, since the only investigation was a counter-intelligence one directed at a foreign power.
Steak - Right
Garnish - Left
2. Trump allegedly asked Comey for loyalty at a smarmy private dinner on January 27. As a man of letters, Comey crystallized the smarm of every interaction with Trump in a way that would make Elmore Leonard proud. Everything Trump did was inappropriate, from asking him to dinner, to having a small table with two chairs and a steward serve them, to asking for loyalty, and it had “awkward” written all over it. Even though Comey never once pushed back and told Trump he needed to take action in a different way and through different channels, he was sufficiently alarmed to write up “a detailed memo about the dinner immediately afterwards and shared it with the senior leadership team of the FBI. After Comey’s testimony, President Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz strongly denied that Trump had ever asked for loyalty at the dinner.
Steak (and smarm!) – Left
Garnish – Right
3. Trump allegedly asked Comey to let the probe go on former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn in a private Oval Office meeting on February 14. Wrote Comey: “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.' "
Comey again prepared a memo and shared it with senior leadership at the FBI. “The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide. We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account. We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.” Yet Comey did find a way to ask Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump again – a concept that has prompted several hilarious memes about the President being creepy. In case you weren’t sure, this information from Comey most certainly amounts to obstruction of justice, according to Democrats.
Steak (and smoking gun!) – Left
Garnish - Right
4. In 2016, Comey bowed to pressure from then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to tell the media the FBI was conducting a “matter,” not a criminal investigation, of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Comey told Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.): “The Clinton campaign at the time was using all kinds of euphemisms – security review, matters, things like that, for what was going on – we were getting to a place where the attorney general and I both were going to have to testify and talk publicly about it, and I wanted to know, was she going to authorize us to confirm we had an investigation. And she said 'Yes, but don’t call it that. Call it a matter.' And I said, 'Why would I do that?' And she said, 'Just call it a matter.' And again, you look back in hindsight, you think, should I have resisted harder, I just said, 'All right, it isn’t worth, this isn’t a hill worth dying on,' and so I just said, 'OK. The press is going to completely ignore it,' and that’s what happened, when I said, 'We have opened a matter,' they all reported, the FBI has an investigation open. … And again, I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate. We had a criminal investigation open, with as I’ve said before, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We had an investigation open at the time, and so that gave me a queasy feeling.”
A queasy feeling, but not the urge to write a memo.
Oddly enough, in researching this takeaway, I came across a column by Judge Andrew Napolitano in the Washington Times which asserted exactly what Comey acknowledged – that DOJ had instructed FBI to refer to the criminal probe as a “matter.” That column was written on April 26, 2017. Now that Comey has confirmed the matter of the matter, it is a huge story on all media outlets.
Steak (and smoking gun!) – Right
Garnish – Left
5. James Comey leaked his own memos to friends to prompt a special counsel. Comey told the committee that after the President tweeted that Comey better hope there were no tapes of their conversations, he decided to send his memos to friends, who in turn gave the memos to The New York Times hoping to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” Wow! We haven’t heard anything this good since the Iran-Contra hearings! “My judgement was I needed to get that out into the public square,” he told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). To make matters more confusing, Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz disputed Comey’s account that he leaked his own memos only after the President tweeted about tapes of their conversations. The tweet was on May 12; an examination of articles in The New York Times divulging Comey’s version of events was published on May 11. Oops.
Steak – Right
Garnish - Left
6. James Comey said the media had published “many, many” false stories based on classified information. “There have been many, many stories purportedly based on classified information, about, well about lots of stuff, especially about Russia, that are just dead wrong,” he told Sen. Lankford. Earlier, he had said most of the anonymous sources for such stories “don’t know what they’re talking about.” Except for him. He knows what he’s talking about.
Steak – Left and Right
Garnish - Media
Now maybe, just maybe, not believing everything we read from anonymous sources is something we can all get behind.