David French of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America point out former FBI director James Comey’s evaluation of how untrustworthy much of the media was when reporting on Russia and the 2016 elections. They also discuss the major political disaster that befell British conservatives in the snap election Thursday, badly weakening the party and strengthening the position of the Labour Party’s far-left leader. And they decry Bernie Sanders’ blatant disregard for the 6th Amendment when questioning President Trump’s nominee for deputy budget director about his Christian beliefs.
Thursday’s highly anticipated testimony of former FBI Director James Comey delivered devastating blows to the legal accusations against President Trump, but a former federal prosecutor says the political damage inflicted by Comey and the overall investigation could end up being a major wound.
In the hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey confirmed that Trump is not and never was personally under investigation by the FBI as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and, critically, that there is no evidence of collusion between Trump and his team and Russia.
He also said Trump never directly ordered him to cease any probe and that media reports suggesting extensive communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian government were almost entirely false.
However, Comey also said he took Trump’s overtures on behalf of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as a directive. He also indicated that he started keeping memos only when Trump was elected to protect himself if there were any future dust-ups.
In his opening statement, Comey also slammed Trump for changing his public explanation for firing him, initially indicating that it was about the handling of the Hillary Clinton case before admitting it was about the Russia probe. Comey then called Trump a liar for publicly suggesting that FBI personnel had lost confidence in him.
Between the media hype and the Democratic talking points leading into Thursday, Trump critics were preparing for an event that would be the tipping point towards his legal or political downfall. They didn’t get it.
“If you just look clinically at the legal facts that came out, Trump had a good day as far as the allegations we’ve been looking at over the last six months,” said former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and others for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning to attack other landmarks.
“The testimony undermines the case for obstruction of justice, which I’ve been trying to argue was not strong at all to begin with. There’s still no evidence of collusion and they acknowledged Trump was not the subject of an investigation,” said McCarthy.
He says the definitive remarks on collusion may well be the biggest stories of the day.
“Today probably puts to bed the notion that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime. So Comey, who would have had every motivation to suggest such collusion if there had been any, really was very clear on the fact there was no evidence of that,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says the intense politicization of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 elections has distracted officials from focusing on the actual, ongoing threat.
“What I’ve been concerned about is that our consideration of Russia has become so hyper-politicized that a lot people have a motivation to downplay it. To me it’s very serious, so I hope we can put the politics part of that aside and start to focus on the Putin regime, which is a real problem for the United States,” said McCarthy.
But while Trump’s legal concerns ought to be greatly eased, McCarthy warns Comey’s blistering attack on Trump’s character may do lasting damage.
“Even in not formally or informally accusing Trump of not committing a crime, Comey paints a very unflattering portrait of the president as somebody who is conniving, dishonest, and a real operator in a sense,” said McCarthy.
“I’m not smart enough to know how this is going to play itself out, but I wonder if people will care more about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of criminal wrongdoing or even deeply inappropriate behavior that straddles the line of the law versus how unflattering the portrait of the president painted by Comey is,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy notes Hillary Clinton never faced any charges over her private server or for mishandling top secret classified information, but the revelation of her conduct ended up carrying immense political consequences.
Shortly after Comey finished his public testimony, Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, publicly highlighted what he sees as Comey’s exoneration of Trump while simultaneously disputing Comey’s assertion that Trump demanded a loyalty pledge or asked for the Flynn probe to be dropped.
McCarthy says it makes sense for Kasowitz to point out the testimony that boosts Trump’s legal standing, but he says accusing Comey of not telling the truth in other areas was not smart.
“I wouldn’t be asking for a credibility contest between Trump and Comey. Trump has a long, long history of not having at 7 p.m. the position he took at 7 a.m. and he may have changed it two or three times in between. Whereas, Comey has contemporaneous notes and is pretty solid as he moves from event to event to event even when he tells the same story multiple times,” said McCarthy.
“Trump’s going to lose a credibility contest with Comey and there’s no reason for his lawyer to get him into one,” said McCarthy.
Another key revelation from Comey centers on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Comey confirmed he went public with his summary on the Clinton case and his recommendation not to prosecute because of Lynch’s clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton on an Arizona tarmac. He also revealed that Lynch pressured him not to publicly describe the Clinton probe as an “investigation” but rather as a “matter.”
Nonetheless, McCarthy says Lynch is not in any legal danger.
“I don’t think she’s in any legal trouble. I think Comey’s point, and it was a good one, is that it’s not one side that tries to massage and politicize law enforcement,” said McCarthy.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America dive into all things Comey as the former FBI Director gives his much awaited testimony. They point out that Comey confirmed President Trump’s contention that he was told three times that he was not under FBI investigation. They also highlight Trump’s inappropriate demands for Comey’s loyalty and the inconsistent reasons given for Comey’s firing. And they have some fun as Washington loses its mind with excitement over a congressional hearing.
Politicians and media are salivating over Wednesday’s Senate testimony from the top figures in the intelligence community and the opening testimony expected Thursday from former FBI Director James Comey concerning the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, but a former House intelligence committee chairman says so far nothing has really changed.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein joined Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
While each of the men seemed reluctant to say there had been no prodding from the Trump administration on the Russia investigation, all of them rejected the idea that Trump or his team did anything inappropriate.
“In the three-plus years that I have been director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” said Adm. Rogers. “And to the best of my collection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.”
Former House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra says that is the most important takeaway from Wednesday.
“What the senators did learn is exactly what they needed to learn, that the heads of these agencies and these departments did not feel any pressure at all from the president or from the White House to stop their investigations of what Russia did in the 2016 election, said Hoekstra, who served 18 years in the House. He is now chairman of Hoekstra Global Strategies.
He says those hoping for a room full of smoking guns came up empty.
“It really ended up being all about nothing. I think there were people expecting that they’d hear more about conversations between President Trump and some of these individuals who work with him and that there might have been a revelation that said they felt pressure from the president. Really, nothing materialized today,” said Hoekstra.
However, Hoekstra says he is glad to see strong bipartisan cooperation from the Senate committee, a process he says ought to bring confidence to the American people that the investigation is being handled responsibly.
That’s also what Hoekstra expects to materialize on Thursday, when the immensely hyped Comey testimony takes place before the same Senate committee. On Wednesday, the committee released Comey’s opening statement for Thursday.
Both parties are already seizing on different passages. Trump critics cite Comey’s contention that Trump demanded loyalty from Comey and repeatedly asked Comey to find a way to ease up on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
At the same time, Comey seems to confirm that Trump himself was never personally under investigation and that Trump’s comments to him, while awkward and possibly inappropriate, did not constitute obstruction of justice or any other crime.
In the end Hoekstra suspects few minds will be changed.
“What the American people will probably see as a result is that the talking heads, for the next 24-48 hours, will both claim victory and some justification for their points of view. Then we’ll get to next week and something else will take over the headlines,” said Hoekstra, who says investigators should then focus on where the evidence is screaming for them to go.
“(Special Counsel Robert) Mueller’s got to focus on what the original intent of this investigation was: the Russians. What did the Russians do, not what did Trump do or what did Hillary do, what did their teams do or anything. What did the Russians do? That’s where the focus will hopefully now move to,” said Hoekstra.
Hoekstra says the American people will be the ultimate judges on whether the Democrats take their accusations too far. He admits Republicans would be fiercely critical if Comey had ever suggested President Obama had asked for his loyalty or to go easy on a political ally.
Still, he says Republicans could do themselves a world of political good by actually doing what they promised to do, rather than letting the Russia story suck all the oxygen out of Washington.
“They’d like to have better roads, better bridges, more income, more jobs and those sorts of things. They’re sick and tired of Washington,” said Hoekstra, who says there’s not reason for the GOP not to plow ahead on its legislative agenda.
As for the ongoing intelligence probe, Hoekstra says we also need to dig deeper into reports of extensive Obama administration surveillance on American citizens.
“I think there should be a lot of focus on the surveillance issue. This is an issue that I’m not totally comfortable with. I’d really like to better understand where NSA has evolved in terms of monitoring and unmasking Americans, where that has evolved to over the last seven to eight years since I’ve left the Hill,” said Hoekstra.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America start the day reacting to reports that former FBI director James Comey will not accuse President Trump of trying to obstruct justice. They also sigh as tensions mount between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. And they are a bit surprised to see ISIS attacking Iran, but also see some benefit in two detestable entities focused on each other rather than targets in the West.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America have a field day as government contractor Reality Winner is arrested for leaking classified information to the media. They also unload on Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who tries to leave the impression that Russia manipulated the actual vote tallies in 2016 while also admitting that there is no evidence for it. And they discuss the Trump administration’s failed attempts to assemble a war room to push back against former FBI Director James Comey’s upcoming testimony.
Democrats, media figures, and even some Republicans suggest President Trump’s alleged request for former FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn amounts to obstruction of justice, but a former federal prosecutor says what we know thus far does not rise to that level and is no different than Barack Obama’s efforts to exonerate Hillary Clinton.
Andrew C. McCarthy led the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and others for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plots to blow up other New York City landmarks. In his latest column for National Review, McCarthy says those purporting outrage now said virtually nothing when President Obama arguably took more egregious actions with respect to Clinton.
“In a few ways, the Obama situation with Hillary Clinton is worse than what we’ve heard about here. What Obama did was make a very public statement, which is obviously a statement to his subordinates as well as everyone else, that he didn’t want Mrs. Clinton prosecuted and didn’t think she should be prosecuted,” said McCarthy in an interview discussing his column.
“He articulated a legal theory for why she shouldn’t be prosecuted, this claim that she wasn’t trying to harm the United States and that her classified emails, while they exhibited carelessness on her part, were really a small part of a much larger overall picture and had been exaggerated out of proportion,” said McCarthy.
He says that same logic was used again a few months later.
“Lo and behold three months later, when Director Comey announced his view that Mrs. Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted, he adopted precisely the legal reasoning Obama had announced three months before,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy’s analysis follows the breathless reporting of an alleged Comey memo following a February 14 meeting with Trump at the White House. According to the memo, Trump cleared the room before engaging Comey on the Flynn investigation.
Trump reportedly told Comey, “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.” M
McCarthy says that tidbit alone is a far cry from constituting obstruction of justice.
“I don’t think we’re close to being there yet because even though I am sure that then-Director Comey must have found the conversation with President Trump to be awkward and inappropriate, I don’t think there’s anything corrupt about it,” said McCarthy.
First of all, McCarthy says it’s hard to draw any sweeping conclusions from a few scraps of a conversation.
“The most important thing about obstruction of justice is context. We don’t really have context here. We have one statement that’s mined out of what must be a larger memo,” said McCarthy.
He says there needs to be concrete evidence of corruption to pursue obstruction of justice allegations.
“Corruption is the heart of obstruction of justice. The person has to act intentionally, knowing that what he’s doing is wrong, and intend to subvert the truth-seeking process,” said McCarthy.
Trump critics suggest the subsequent firing of Comey after the director refused to back off the Flynn case is evidence of obstruction. McCarthy says you need a lot more than that.
“I think the corruption that would be involved would be if you were to pressure the FBI to drop an investigation, rig that result and then use it to suggest the person had been exonerated when you knew that you had actually rigged the result and not allowed the FBI to do an investigation,” said McCarthy.
Furthermore, McCarthy says Comey’s actions over the subsequent three months shows he did not consider Trump’s comments as an attempt to obstruct justice.
“Obviously, Comey, who is a highly-decorated and highly-experienced former prosecutor and FBI director and who well knows what obstruction of justice is, he clearly didn’t feel like he’d been obstructed. If he had, I’m certain he would have resigned and then gone up and down the chain of command and perhaps to Congress to report why he was resigning,” said McCarthy.
“Instead, he ended the conversation. He did write the memo. The investigation of Flynn continues. In fact, we now here that there’s a grand jury in Virginia, so he must not have perceived that he’d been obstructed. Obviously they weren’t obstructed because they’re proceeding with the investigation,” said McCarthy.
For the same reason, McCarthy says the wringing of hands and panting for impeachment inside the beltway is greatly overblown.
“Democrats will say that Trump fired Flynn because of the Flynn investigation and because of the fact that it hadn’t been closed down and that he did it as a signal to the FBI and the Justice Department that he doesn’t want Flynn proceeded against. That’ll be their interpretation of it,” said McCarthy.
“The reason I think that’s a loser, even though I understand why they’re making the argument, is that the investigation is continuing,” said McCarthy.
“There’s a lot more to the relationship between the president and the FBI director than a single criminal case, even against a one-time aide of Trump’s in the administration. There could be a million reasons why the president might want to fire the FBI director,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says Democrats have been trying to bring down Trump since the day after the election, and perpetual outrage is often an effective way of preventing much from getting accomplished.
“In the long term, what they’re looking at is trying to make it impossible for him to govern so the parts of his agenda, to the extent that they object to them, can’t be implemented and also make it look like his government – and he’s helping them with this by the way – is so chaotic and so in over its head that it helps their electoral prospects in 2018 and 2020,” said McCarthy.
While McCarthy notes that Republicans have a long history of not defending their party’s president during times of controversy, at least compared to Democrats, he sees no actual traction for impeachment despite the growing demands from the left.
“I see the fervor (among Democrats) to want to get a president impeached, but I don’t see any grounds for doing it. Given what Republican numbers are at the moment, I don’t see any prospect of it,” said McCarthy.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to reports that President Trump wants to create a NATO-like group in the Middle East, involving Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE. They also dissect what we know of the memo former FBI Director James Comey reportedly wrote about Trump asking him to back off the investigation of Michael Flynn. And they discuss the speculation swirling around the future of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and explain how Trump is making the work of the communications team much more difficult.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss the conviction of former Florida Rep. Corrine Brown on 18 counts of fleecing her own charity to fund her own activities and how she is the second Democrat convicted of fraud in the past year. They also wince as Kellyanne Conway tells Fox News that Trump expects the FBI director to be loyal to the administration. And they sigh as Trump tweets out the suggestion that he may have secretly recorded his earlier conversations with James Comey.
While the media and politicians from both parties look for deeper reasons for President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, a former Justice Department official says the decision was long overdue and needed for obvious reasons.
Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Victoria Toensing says she and others in the the justice and law enforcement community urged Trump to dismiss Comey from day one.
“It just came too late, 109 days too late. Those of us in the swamp knew who the alligators were in the swamp, and we all tried to warn the White House and they didn’t listen to us,” said Toensing, who also served as a federal prosecutor.
And why did they implore Trump to fire him?
“Comey was a narcissist. It was all about Comey and he delighted in wanting to bring down powerful people if they were Republicans,” said Comey.
Toensing also points to how Comey, during his days as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, tapped his close friend, Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the alleged exposing of a covert CIA operative.
That probe resulted in a criminal conviction for Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. But that’s not who Fitzgerald really wanted.
“Throughout that investigation, Scooter’s lawyer was told consistently by the Fitzgerald people, ‘If you give up Dick Cheney, this will all go away.’ They were trying to bring down Dick Cheney, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Comey was talking with Fitzgerald while he was doing this,” said Toensing, who represents Libby in his quest for a presidential pardon.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration released its rationale for the Comey firing, focusing on his public announcement that no charges should be filed against Hillary Clinton in the wake of the FBI probe into her use of a private, unsecured server through which she sent and received classified information while she served as Secretary of State.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein accused Comey of usurping the authority of the attorney general in making such a pronouncement and for exposing Clinton’s misdeeds when he was effectively closing the investigation.
But Toensing says Comey made far more mistakes, starting with his repeated misstating of the statute in question. Comey insisted that intent to break the law was required to bring charges, while gross negligence is the standard laid out in federal law. She also savaged Comey for refusing to impanel a grand jury to probe Clinton and for allowing the same attorney to represent multiple witnesses in the case.
“That’s called a conflict of interest, because that lawyer can get all of her clients together and they can all read from the same music. You never do that,” said Toensing.
Toensing is also dismissing the intense reaction from Democrats, who she says are now appalled after calling for Comey’s head for months. She says the idea that Trump fired Comey because of the ongoing Russia investigation is ridiculous and so are any comparisons to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.”
“In Watergate, there was a crime. There was a burglary. There was a break-in. What’s the crime here? What’s the crime? Do we have a crime? No, there’s no crime,” said Toensing, noting that Russian involvement in U.S. elections is nothing new.
“That’s been going on since Richard Nixon. Why is it all of a sudden an issue this time, just because Hillary lost? If Hillary had won, there would not be any inquiry into whatever the Russians did regarding this election process,” said Toensing.
Toensing is also upset with congressional Republicans, both for not doing more at recent hearings to point out that Russian interference in elections is not the same as collusion with the Trump campaign. She also says the past 24 hours show Democrats are far better at messaging than the GOP.
Finally, Toensing believes former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would be an ideal successor to Comey at the FBI and is someone who has worked for Republicans and Democrats.
“He is a lifetime career cop. That’s what we need at the FBI now to gain confidence,” said Toensing.