Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Former FBI Director James Comey has authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his repared testimony for tomorrow, and it's basically a diary of Trump's attempts to influence the investigation into Mike Flynn and Russia.  Ben Wittes at Lawfare goes over the seven-page release:

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This is a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

Comey is explicit that he saw Trump as attempting to enmesh him in an inappropriate relationship at the time. Of the January 27 dinner, for example, he writes that, “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” And it’s hard to read this meeting any other way, at least not as Comey describes it. The President repeatedly asked for “loyalty,” was not satisfied with a promise of “honesty,” and the two compromised only awkwardly over the term “honest loyalty.” Trump specifically dangled the question of Comey’s keeping his job over his head. In their last conversation, on April 11, Comey reports that Trump emphasized to him that “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” 
Throughout the document, Comey reports extreme discomfort with Trump’s behavior generally, and this aspect of it particularly. At that dinner, Comey felt compelled to tell the President that he was not “reliable” in the way politicians expect. He reports that the President’s efforts to engage him in a “patronage” relationship “concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.” He describes the interaction as a “very awkward conversation.”

Legal experts much more experience than I'll ever be point out that obstruction of justice as a legal term doesn't care a whit about feelings or intent, but rather the act of interference itself, either by word or by deed.

This brings me to the second broad theme about Trump’s conduct, which is the serial investigative inquiries made directly of the FBI. The first one, on the occasion of the January 6 briefing about the Steele dossier, is probably forgivable. Comey had to brief the President-elect on what he described as “salacious and unverified” allegations. It’s not clear what precisely Trump said or did in response to the briefing, and, in fact, Comey suggests that he did not directly ask whether the FBI was investigating the matter. That said, and I’ll return to this point below, it was “based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to that briefing” that Comey felt compelled to assure him that he was not personally the subject of “an open counter-intelligence case.” So that case is a little murky.

The pages of the testimony are laced, however, with examples of other inappropriate queries of the FBI director on investigative matters. There’s the conversation about General Michael Flynn; there is a subsequent inquiry on the Steele material; there are questions about when Comey was going to publicly state that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation.

It’s hard to express to people who are not steeped in federal law enforcement just how inappropriate these inquiries are, particularly when they involve an investigation in which the President has such deep and multifaceted personal stakes. No, they are not illegal. The President, after all, has constitutional authority to ask for whatever information he wants from his subordinates in the executive branch. But of course, the President also has the authority to give the State of the Union address in Latin and have it consist entirely of obscenities directed at the Speaker of the House. To people who know the norms of federal law enforcement, the conduct described here is closer to that end of the spectrum of presidential behavior than it is to the normal range.

So there's a legal question, and a conduct question.  Whether or not this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors is solely up to the House, and there's a 0% chance of that happening while the GOP runs the House.

But again, even if the Dems win back the House and flip the Senate, they won't have the 67 votes in the upper chamber to remove Trump from office, and there's no reason to believe he'd vacate the office anyway. Even voting him out of office may not be enough.

We'll see what Comey chooses to expand upon tomorrow, but my guess is that the country's going to move into a new stage where Trump is bunkered up and furious, and all the while the Senate is plotting to pass Trumpcare under the radar.

Tune in tomorrow.

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