What the Comey Memos Teach

Terry H. Schwadron

April 21, 2018

There is a lot of hullabaloo about the decision of the Justice Department to deliver the 15 James Comey Jr. memos on his meetings with then President-elect Donald Trump to insistent Republican congressmen who had threatened the Justice Department with contempt if they failed to deliver them.

As with battles over other memos and documents in this contentious “witch hunt” or necessary Special Counsel investigation, all the political noise finally forces us to say reluctantly, okay let’s take a look.

Apart from their content, the memos brouhaha shows a lot about today’s divisive Washington:

· The memos, even in redacted form, leaked immediately to various news outlets. This, of course, is the way of Washington, but illustrates the hesitation of the Justice Department at delivering information being used in the active all-things-Russia investigation.

· Immediately, President Trump used the memos to declare himself free of any obstruction of justice. That’s pretty strange since the memos seem total confirmation of what James Comey had said they were — namely, contemporaneous notes of meetings in which Trump sought a personal loyalty oath over any appropriate law enforcement investigation. In other words, it is about the retelling of the tale, not the tale itself.

· The president also repeated for the umpteenth time that Comey leaked classified information (There were some developments yesterday in which two of the memos were listed as classified after Comey’s firing.). There is nothing in the memos to suggest that, and, in this case, the “leaking” was out of Congress — of the memos themselves.

· As is often the case, the memos highlight a president who is focused on himself, not on his job of making America great again.

It is almost of passing notice that the memos showed that Trump had reservations about Michael T. Flynn, his national security advisor appointee, who, the president-elect said, had showed some “serious judgment” issues. The AP reported yesterday that Trump felt Flynn had failed to notify him immediately of a congratulatory election phone call from Russian leader Vladimir Putin (later in the memo, Trump recalled talking prostitutes with Putin).

And the memos show a certain obsession by Trump over reports circulating that he had contact with prostitutes in Moscow, though there was no mention of “golden showers,” that emerged in the reports to which he was alluding. He wanted Comey to prove the reports false, according to the memos.

So, to me, these memos all seem to underscore the very things that Comey is saying on his book tour rather than extending our knowledge or understanding.

In a statementthis week, Republican RepresentativesDevin Nunes (R-Ca.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and Trey Gowdy (R-SC), all committee chairs, demanded the release of the memos, saying, “Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier.
“The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation,” said the three congressmen.

On the other hand, the investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues with or without release of these memos. It is easy to accept the view of people like Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-MD) that Republican congressmen are becoming increasingly aggressive — some, including me, would say over-the-line interfering — in seeking to undercut the Mueller investigation by highlighting the potentially premature public release of documents associated with the probe.

What matters in Washington politics has little to do with the substance, and everything to do with the spin with which the version of what has happened spills out. It is about who is winning the public relations game, not about seeking anything close to justice.

What makes it particularly easy this is the refusal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to allow a bill to come to the floor that would make it marginally more difficult for Trump to fire Mueller or Rod J. Rosenstein, deputy attorney general. He simply sees no purpose in it, since he wants to believe that Trump will not try to fire the special counsel.

Meanwhile, Comey is on television daily to make his mostly earnest case for ethical behavior by leaders, confining the breadth of his remarks to his own experience. He comes off as a little too brittle, a little too shy of new insight or evidence, a little too opposed to Trump the person as to be less than persuasive about whether what Trump did or said represents an actual crime that can be prosecuted. Hmm. Sounds like what he said about Hillary, too.

The constant hectoring of the Justice Department as Trump opponent seems to be paying off. Polling in the last week has said that a majority of Republicans in the country believe that Comey is lying about his meetings with the president. And now, having attacked, and fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, there are suggestions that the Justice Department has moved (or been pressured to move) to bring criminal charges against McCabe basically for concealing that he leaked clarifying information from the Hillary investigation to a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Despite the vague discomfort among Republicans that Trump might do so, there is little outside of following procedure that will stop Trump from firing Mueller. Once the act has happened, of course, the Republican-majority Congress will find itself powerless to do anything about it.

Simply put, it is outrageous that McConnell and Republicans would stand in the way of any justice investigation in order to protect their party’s president.

You might say it was just as cheeky for Democrats to file suit against Trump, Russians and Wikileaks for conspiring to deny Hillary the election. At this point, it seems a reach.

Such is the depth and breadth of the divide — again.

What are the lessons here? Leaking is bad, unless it is leaking to help your side of an argument. Spin is bad unless it is to further your point of view. Facts matter only if they work in favor of your pre-drawn conclusion.

It seems we have made America’s behavior great again.





Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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