Trump’s Restraint In Tweeting During Comey Testimony Did Not Last Long

One of the biggest surprises on the day James Comey testified before Congress is that Donald Trump’s lawyers were temporarily able to dissuade him from going ahead and responding on Twitter as he had previously planned. It had to be quite difficult considering how Comey was saying that Trump’s stated reasons for lying “were lies, plain and simple.”

After staying quiet during the testimony, Trump ultimately tweeted: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

Trump is threatening legal action against Comey for releasing memos concerning the content of their meetings. Philip Bump looked into the legality of Trump retaliating against Comey:

President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump — though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of criminal misconduct.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment…

“The constitutional right to go to the press with information on matters of public concern, as long as you’re not doing it in a way that will bring out classified information,” Kohn said, “the reason why that is protected constitutionally is that the courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the public has a constitutional right to hear this information.” In other words, it’s constitutionally protected speech.

Trump now says he is willing to testify under oath about Comey’s statements. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury related to relatively minor falsehoods unrelated to his performance as president. Any false statements made by Trump under oath with regards to the firing of the FBI Director should be an even more serious matter.

Comey’s testimony did not provide any evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia to alter the results of the election as many Democrats claim occurred, but did provide further suggestion of obstruction of justice. BBC News provided this analysis:

In one of those exchanges, the president said he “hoped” Mr Comey could “find his way” to dropping an investigation into then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a Trump ally who was under scrutiny over his ties to Russia.

We knew that already – Mr Comey made details of the meeting public several weeks ago – and Committee Republicans sought on Thursday to paint it as an innocent exchange: “I hope” was not an instruction, they said.

The former FBI director declined to offer his own opinion at the hearing on whether the president was attempting to obstruct justice, saying only that he found their exchange “very disturbing”. Whether the president had broken the law would be a matter for special counsel investigator Robert Mueller to decide, he said.

So what’s changed? Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law professor and former federal prosecutor, said the oral testimony gave new and legally significant insight into how Mr Comey interpreted the president’s words in the moment.

“The critical aspect of an obstruction case is assessing the intent of the speaker and whether it was corrupt,” Mr Whiting said. “People communicate with much more than words, and some of the best evidence for what a speaker meant can be how the speaker was understood at the time.”

Mr Comey’s testified on Thursday that he clearly understood Mr Trump to be pushing him to drop the inquiry. We also heard for the first time that the president cleared the room before making the remarks, removing even Mr Comey’s boss, the attorney general.

Added to that, Mr Comey, who has a long history of high-profile legal positions and who took meticulous notes directly after his meetings with the president, was a “dream witness”, Mr Whiting said. “I think if you take together his written and oral testimony together, he has now made a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.

Interpretation of the hearings comes down to whether you believe James Comey or Donald Trump. The suggestion that Trump might have tapes certainly did not scare Comey. The quote of the day out of the hearings was Comey saying:  “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If there are, my bet is that any tapes made by Donald Trump will be as devastating to him as the tapes made by Richard Nixon.

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