When was the last time a live television countdown began 120 hours before a testimony in the US Congress? Although Thursday June 8, 10 am is almost a week away, a live link to the upcoming high drama of the former FBI boss James Comey’s testimony is crawling on top of nearly every news website in the US.
Meanwhile, White House officials said they did not know Friday evening if Trump will seek to block Comey from testifying, a move that is certain to spark a high stakes political firestorm.
"We'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies," White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on telly, indicating no immediate signs of a clampdown.
Just as the Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord brought White House strategist Steve Bannon into direct confrontation with Jared and Ivanka, any Russia spill will play into Bannon’s hands. Washington reporters say it’s more than mere coincidence that leaks on Kushner have come thick and fast after Bannon got kicked out of the elite National Security Council.
Coming to the Russia probe itself, this is not a monolithic probe but four separate US Congress-led committees chasing the the same question marks - did Russia meddle in the US election 2016 and did this happen in collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign? It just so happens that Robert Mueller, the respected former director of the FBI is running the main investigation and can press charges. The criss cross of multiple probes leading to the same endgame could mean a ton of similar or overalpping information but it also means that nothing gets missed out because of lack of resources or staff.
Next week will bring on high drama and four main characters in the star cast - Mueller, Comey, Kushner and Kislyak - all of whom you may have been reading about as stand-alone stories. Here’s the lowdown on each of them before it’s time for popcorn - 10 am on Thursday June 8 is the Comey testimony.
James Comey, 56
Whatever Comey says on June 8 is already the stuff of dreams for reality TV, what he represents is being celebrated in equal measure by America’s left leaning news industry - the revenge of the professional class, the quiet influence of career bureaucrats who painstakingly write down notes, who understand that the checks and balances of a democracy have deeper roots than the nodes of social networks. From all reports so far, it transpires that Trump and Comey were alone in the room when Trump asked Comey to let the Russia probe go. By this time, the Attorney General and chief of staff had left the room, it was just Comey and Trump in the now famous one-on-one ambience in which Trump is said to thrive. Comey, the man who Hillary Clinton claims cost her the election in the final days before November 8 now holds the Trump White House by the scruff of its neck. What memos does he have? How many? It’s the only question on Washington’s mind. Unlike Trump’s Paris climate deal pullout which will take all the way up till 2020 to unravel, Comey is happening in real time.
Robert Mueller, 72
Within a week of James Comey’s shock firing, Robert Mueller was appointed on May 17 as special counsel designated by the Justice Department to lead the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US 2016 election. Mueller has so far been mum about taking over the investigations. He reportedly has met with James Comey to discuss the probe, and Comey is said to have asked for permission to testify. All this seems to have happened almost simultaneously with Trump’s longest stint away from Washington DC on his excursion to Arabia and Europe. Respected across the aisle by both Republicans and Democrats, Mueller led the FBI for 12 years until 2013. He was appointed by George W Bush and Barack Obama decided to stick with Mueller.
Jared Kushner, 36
Trump’s son in law and special adviser Jared Kushner is also a focus in the Russia probe. He is alleged to have sought a hotline to Moscow and chose not to mention this meeting in his security clearance form. The Post reported that Kushner is under investigation for the "extent and nature" of his interaction with Russian officials. Expect stories by the dozen on this young man to be leaked by key White House lackeys envious of his stunning rise. Two meeting of Kushner will be in the spotlight - one with the Russian Ambassador to the US and the other with the chief of a Russian bank. The first meeting - with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, is said to have taken place in the first week of December 2016 at Trump Tower in New York City in the presence of Michael Flynn, then the National Security Adviser. The second meeting happened with banker Sergey Gorkov - a graduate of Russia’s Academy of the Federal Security Service. Why should that matter? Because this is where Russia’s spies are trained.
Sergey Kislyak, 66
“Did I do anything wrong?” the portly Kislyak wondered aloud during a speech in Stanford University. Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the US at
the centre of the ‘Russia-Trump’ probe, was the fourth Russian Ambassador posted to the U.S. after the breakup of the Soviet Union, his appointment coming during the crash of 2008 -- a news item that got buried and stayed there. Only until 2010. A full two years after he came to the US, Kislyak pulled out all stops to host a black-tie benefit for the Washington National Opera at a location that recreated haunting images of Russia’s past glory and cost at least half a million dollars. Kislyak is not just another career diplomat - he trained as a nuclear scientist, was spotted for his powerful intellect and pulled into foreign service in 1977. Even if we ignore all the years from 2008 to 2015, the extraordinary closeness of the Russians via Kislyak with the Trump campaign is not very secret - a lot of those photos are in public domain. "We do not interfere into internal affairs of the United States," both Putin and Kislyak have said. The question then becomes - did Kislyak’s incidental entanglement help one of the candidates collude with the Russians on the fly?
Published Date: Jun 03, 2017 04:43 am | Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 04:43 am