Immediately following the November election, then FBI Director James Comey was on every Democrat’s hit list of people to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss. Now, one month after President Trump fired him, Comey’s been transformed into a political victim. Over the course of two and a half hours of questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey got payback by throwing shade at Trump’s integrity and competence, calling him a flat out liar, as well hinting at a case for obstruction of justice – all while committee members tripped over themselves to compliment his own goodness, decency, and strength. What a difference a little time can make.
Comey has often been described as having a flair for political drama and in this latest episode, he did not disappoint. The day before the testimony, Comey’s opening statement was released publicly. In it, he details uncomfortable one-on-one meetings and exchanges with the President, including being told over dinner that Trump expected his “loyalty”. During Thursday’s hearing, Comey explained that while he had never made records of his conversations with either President George W. Bush or Barack Obama, Trump was different because of “the nature of the person”, so he started chronicling all of their encounters.
“I was honestly concerned that he might lie”, Comey explained. The notes have become an integral part of Comey’s narrative as an independent public servant fighting against a corrupt President. Trump tweeted in May that Comey “better hope there are no tapes”, but in today’s Congressional hearing, the emboldened former FBI Director openly wished for just the opposite, saying, “Lordy, I hope there are”.
In an astonishing admission, Comey disclosed that he helped orchestrate a leak of his memos to the press through a friend, because he “thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel”. Specifically, it dealt with an instance where Trump told Comey privately “I hope you can let this go”, regarding the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Comey’s defense was that his personal recollections are not classified.
The double standard on leaking in Washington is well known. High ranking officials rarely receive more than a slap on the wrist, just look at Former CIA Director David Petraeus. In Comey’s case, this will be heralded as a brave move by an official trying to expose wrongdoing, and indeed that seems to be the case. But the point was not lost on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who took advantage of the news to tweet, “It seems the FBI Director agrees: sometimes the only moral decision is to break the rules”.
Ultimately, Comey’s legacy is not the important part of today’s hearing. The former FBI Director said that there is “no fuzz” about whether or not the Russian government tried to interfere in the US election, and strategic questioning by many of the Senators led to signs that there may be something to questions of cooperation or encrypted communications between the Russian government and Trump associates. Comey replied to many queries by saying he couldn’t discuss the issue in an “open setting”, rather than just answering a simple “no”.
Still, it’s always fascinating to witness the predictability of Washington and partisan politics. Comey was an FBI Director who impacted the political landscape and is continuing to do so now as a private citizen, but his tally of friends and enemies is ever evolving, depending on who stands to benefit. When questioned repeatedly about why he didn’t tell the President his requests for loyalty or leniency were wrong, Comey’s excuse was, “I am not Captain Courageous”. No one can claim to know what they would have done if they were in Comey’s shoes, but watching responses on twitter from both right and left was a good reminder that it doesn’t really matter. In today’s political environment people can choose their own truth, and a man like Comey can always find an audience willing to embrace him.