James Comey's 'explosive' testimony undermined by his credibility problem, says US media

Ousted FBI chief James Comey accused Donald Trump's White House of lies and defamation on Thursday in a wounding sworn testimony that plunged the US leader's already troubled presidency deeper into peril.

Comey said that he was stunned, disturbed and concerned by the president's behaviour in the several meetings he had conducted during his tenure as the FBI chief. Detailing one-on-one talks with a sitting president — which under normal circumstances are private — Comey said he took painstaking notes for fear Trump might "lie" about the unusual encounters. The testimony painted a devastating picture of a president, who at best unknowingly shred the norms of office by pressing Comey on the probe into Russian election meddling, and at worst may have criminally obstructed justice.

But it's important to note that Comey withheld judgment on whether Trump's behaviour amounted to obstruction of justice. He indicated that it was up to a high-powered special prosecutor to determine whether the president's behavior constituted the potentially impeachable offence.

The Guardian’s opinion piece called Comey’s testimony “devastating” and “the beginning of the end” because it revealed dysfunction in the White House and the full extent of Russia’s connections with the Trump family.

While most networks have called the testimony "explosive," not everybody saw Comey's testimony that way.

Of course, Trump's personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz said that the president felt vindicated, because Comey had said that Trump was not under investigation relation to Russia's interference in the election and hoped to clear Trump from accusations of being a liar.

File image of James Comey. AP

File image of James Comey. AP

But Comey's comments have been interpreted differently by Republicans and the Democrats. In an analysis by ABC news, the author claims that in an attempt to discredit Comey, Republicans are questioning as to why he did not voice his concerns earlier, especially if he found the President’s actions troubling.

An opinion piece in Politico magazine furthers the argument by saying that Comey’s actions are dictated by a “subjective standard” for talking publicly. The author writes that even though Comey had assured Trump in person that he was not under investigation in the Russia probe, he refused to publicly acknowledge this when asked to do so by Trump. In contrast, during the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email usage, Comey had no qualms about speaking publicly.

Comey’s inconsistency about bringing information to light is also tackled in this piece in the The New York Times that contrasts his act of willingly leaking the memo about his meetings with Trump with his seeming lack of interest in alerting Attorney General Jeff Sessions of his concerns regarding Trump’s actions, which he found disturbing. All in all, despite affirming that Comey’s testimony has exposed some serious issues with Trump’s administration, the authors call Comey’s behaviour “bizarre.”

Comey’s credibility has been repeatedly called into question; Bloomberg’s opinion piece claims that Comey couldn’t have been as uncomfortable as he said he was because he did not come forward to voice his opinions sooner. Perhaps, there are other possible motivations at play in Comey’s decision to wait for “Trump to strike first” (ie Trump’s tweet about “tapes”).

At the heart of Comey’s testimony was Trump’s oft quoted sentence about Michael Flynn — “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go" — which cuts both ways. Comey’s interpretation of Trump’s 'desire' is that of a direct order, according to another op-ed in The New York Times.

On the other hand, Donald Trump Jr’s tweet about how “there is no ambiguity” about his father’s orders represents the other point of view. To that end, Senator Jim Risch probed into the nature of Trump’s words when he asked Comey, “Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?”

In this “public showdown of credibility,” The New Yorker writes that House Speaker Paul Ryan came to Trump’s defence with the argument that Trump “wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols” of how to interact with the Director of the FBI. Hence, no intent of stopping investigations or obstructing justice can or should be attributed to Trump.

This very lack of intent, hinted at by Paul Ryan, is key to those who oppose Trump’s alleged “obstruction of justice.” For example, this piece by the The Washington Post calls for an incontrovertible proof (that is not found yet) that Trump’s order to stop investigating Flynn was issued “intentionally but also with an awareness that his actions violated the law.” Further, the piece makes the case for “executive discretion” through which an executive officer (and the president is the chief executive) may weigh the seriousness of the crime against the implications of an investigation and choose an alternative to criminal prosecution. It is quite possibly this kind of thinking, the author claims, that was behind Trump’s desire to let Flynn off the hook.

The final argument in the The Washington Post’s op-ed is that while Trump may have wanted to let Flynn off the hook, he did not want to halt the Russia investigation all together. This last point is integral when lawyers consider the grounds for qualifying this as an “obstruction of justice.” Vox has put together a collection of expert responses on the precise legal details of determining whether this counts as obstruction. With a few equivocal affirmations but generally more “perhaps,” and “could be,” the exact consequences of Comey’s testimony are still to be fully determined.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 15:46 PM

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