June 8, 2017
President Trump, the master of political shorthand, tweeted on May 12th just three days after firing former FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” I think it is clear that Trump’s tweet was an attempt to smother James Comey’s testimony this week before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Comey, no longer the head of the FBI, testified that he memorialized his conversations with President Trump in memos to his own personal file. This was the first time in his many years of service that he felt the need to go on record when meeting with a president. It is not clear what triggered this reaction, but the implication is clear. And given his recent firing, caution appears to have been warranted. He told the senators of his dedication to the FBI and to maintaining the traditional independent status of the bureau vis a vis the White House. In early conversations, Comey said the President demanded his loyalty. His exact words were, “I need loyalty; I expect loyalty.” Comey didn’t flinch when these words were spoken. It was just a profound moment of silence between a man who is sworn to maintain the law and a man who was apparently ultimately demanding loyalty before anything else. Later the President asked for “honest loyalty.” Comey decided it would be counter-productive to seek clarification of the meaning of the President’s words.
Later he met with the President and in something that sounds very much like something out of a Nancy Drew mystery story Comey testified, “when the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn.’ Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.”
Then Comey recounted before the senators, “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.” And he said that he had discussed these presidential conversations with his FBI team of investigators and they agreed that he had nothing to corroborate his account. Also, there would be no mention of these conversations with the investigative team as he did not want to“infect” the investigative team with the knowledge of “President’s request.”
Subsequent phone conversations between him and President Trump detailed how Trump had requested him to “lift the cloud” of the Russian allegations which was hanging over the White House and to inform the public that he was not personally under investigation.
The story told by James Comey reminds us of the tone of the admissions of another Watergate figure, the whistleblower John Dean, who provided Congress an inside view into Nixon’s paranoid mindset and exposed many of the illegal White House activities in the Watergate scandal.
Where will this end? Can Donald Trump survive or is he on the road to political disaster? Will Trump’s tape recordings clear him of this apparent conflict of interest, or will they testify to the integrity of the former FBI director?