The long awaited testimony of former FBI Director James Comey finally occurred before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Despite the hype there were very few bombshells in the hearing and pretty much everything that was said had been disclosed prior to the hearing.
The major piece of news was the admission by Comey that he was the one that leaked his notes to the New York Times. He said he did this in order to try and force the administration to appoint a special counsel in the investigation of Russian influence in the past Presidential election. It was disappointing to me to hear that the FBI director had resorted to using a go between (Daniel Richman who is a Columbia Law School professor) to provide the New York Times with the notes he took in his private meeting with President Trump. It was also interesting to hear him say that he took the notes because he was afraid the President would misconstrue what the conversation was about.
Now I have to ask a basic question. Was he taking the notes during the conversation or did he write them down after the meeting? If he was taking notes during the conversation I have to believe that President Trump would have noticed and I am surprised he either did not ask him to stop or that he did not recall that when he suggested that Director Comey should worry that there were recordings of the conversation. On that note, Director Comey said he hoped there were recordings, which was calling the President’s bluff. If there are recordings of the conversation the President will now be forced to make them public if he continues to disagree with what Mr. Comey says the conversation was about. But one point won’t go away is that Comey leaked confidential information to the news media and he did it because he wanted to get his narrative out first and skew the media towards what he wanted the story to become.
Mr. Comey, when asked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) about leaking the material said that as a private citizen he had the right to do so and felt it was important to get the information out. Now that is a dangerous attitude since those notes were confidential and involved the President of the United States. That would be tantamount to saying that anyone working with confidential information in the government would be free to disclose that information once they left the government. That simply is not true and cannot be condoned. Comey was in the wrong on this and I think even he knows he was wrong.
The Democrats on Capitol Hill are pouncing on this and the liberal pundits on TV are all calling for more investigation and some are even suggesting the President committed a crime that is an impeachable offense. They are both absolutely wrong. Let me reiterate this point. They are wrong.
In the last election the American public decided it did not want to elect another career politician or even what most would call a normal politician. They voted for Donald Trump because he was not the normal political hack that we see running for higher office. He was rough around the edges, crude in his behavior and did everything a smooth campaigner would never do.
Donald Trump is also not a normal businessman. He was not the CEO of some publicly traded company where you have a board of directors and shareholders. He was the owner of a family real estate development business where he did not have to answer to anyone else and everyone that worked for him had to answer to him. He could and did fire people at will.
This is part of the problem for President Trump. He does not have the same power and leeway with people that he did in the private sector. In that role he demanded that people be loyal to him and if they were not he simply replaced them. In some ways I think this is the basis for his conversation with Jim Comey and others. I know that the White House Personnel office interviewed a friend of mine for a position in the administration and he was asked point blank if he could be loyal to the President. Before you wonder about this question it is asked many times in other administrations as well. But in the case of Jim Comey, he was the Director of the FBI and his loyalty is not to the President but to the office. His loyalty is to the FBI and the investigations it conducts. I am not sure that President Trump realized this nuance and so despite the denials I suspect he asked Comey if he would be loyal ot him.
Now lets look at what President Trump has done and what the Democrats think he has done. There is some irony in this whole situation because earlier this year the Democrats were demanding that Comey be fired and a couple of months later he has become their hero and someone they want to use against President Trump. President Trump more than likely did try to protect General Flynn and probably wanted this entire investigation to go away. In his previous life he simply could demand that it go away and it would. But he is now the President of the United States and investigations like this don’t go away just because you want them to go away.
It needs to be pointed out that as a matter of law if the President had directed Comey to end an investigation he would be legally bound to end the investigation. If he objected he could resign. But as the head of the Executive Branch the President has the final say on anything the Executive Branch does. Renowned law professor Alan Dershowitz has made it clear that the President has this power.
I believe the Russians, with approval of the government because nobody in Russia would do this without that approval, attempted to influence our elections last year. I am also not surprised by this because they have been doing this type of thing for years. The United States has been engaged in similar behavior for years as we try to influence elections in other nations in a way that favors our foreign policy. What is new is the technology that the Russians are using. The Internet makes information vulnerable to the most sophisticated hackers and they used this technology in any way they could. But again, all the evidence tells us that they did not alter or change any votes that had been cast.
Another thing that came out today was the investigation of the Russian attempts to influence our elections has been going on since mid-2015. President Obama was briefed on this in 2015. That begs the question why we are suddenly hearing about this in the post election period. Why didn’t the Obama administration brief the appropriate committees on Capitol Hill on what was going on?
I don’t want to say that this hearing was not harmful to the President. Comey’s testimony makes it very clear that President Trump seemed to be suggesting that he would not honor the tradition of the FBI being independent of the influence of political leaders. He also testified that the Attorney General under President Obama, Loretta Lynch, told Director Comey to refer to the Clinton e-mail issue as a “matter” and not an investigation. Does anyone believe that she would do this without conferring with the President? That blatant effort to influence the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton e-mail issue was further supported, and mentioned in Comey’s testimony, by the tarmac conversation between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton. They said they talked about golf and grandchildren. If you believe that I have a bridge to sell you and I can assure you the vast majority of the American people did not buy that explanation.
The damage to Trump is severe and even the most ardent supporter of the President knows that he took some arrows today. It hurt him politically at a time that he needs political capital more than ever. The Democrats are united in their efforts to thwart Trump and now the Republicans are further divided. We still don’t have a new health care bill and that means we have been unable to move to tax reform. We don’t’ have an infrastructure bill. All of this keeps getting pushed to the future and it now looks like we will be heading into the 2018 mid-term elections without these key issues being resolved.
In closing this blog piece I have to admit that President Trump has only himself to blame for much of this problem. His failure to grasp how to be President has hurt him badly. He is not the CEO of a private real estate development company and he cannot act like he did when he was. I have said repeatedly that he needs to acknowledge to himself that he won and quit fighting small battles. He needs to move to the grander picture on fixing some of the problems facing the nation. Arguing with the media and tweeting out comments on every little thing will not get the job done. Be the President and let Congress be Congress. Be a leader and people will follow you.