Comey’s statement so far raises some important questions but doesn’t prove that Trump is guilty, according to Richard Wagner.
Former FBI Director James Comey has released a statement ahead of his testimony that will be given tomorrow. Since the Republican Primaries, there have been accusations of Russia interfering in the election to benefit Trump, and the possibility of Trump collusion with Russia in this effort. It’s been nearly a year now, and despite many reputable agencies believing at least some of these things to be true, no solid evidence has materialized so far.
Will Comey’s statement change that in any way?
First, it should be noted that a testimony is just a testimony. In theory, if Comey accuses Trump of collusion with Russia, or obstruction of justice during the FBI’s investigation, it’s still Comey’s word against Trump’s. As of yet, there doesn’t seem to be any solid accusations by Comey. There is, however, something in Comey’s statement that looks like it could be obstruction of justice, as follows:
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to let this go, to let Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
This is the one piece of Comey’s seven-page statement that has drawn the attention of mainstream media, including CNN. CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has said, “If that isn’t obstruction of justice, I don’t know what is.” However, it is not so clear.
Let’s assume that Comey’s statement is accurate and proven. Mike Flynn may be innocent, and Trump may have been simply asking Comey to let it go for that reason, to not drag Flynn’s name through the mud. It isn’t obstruction of justice unless one is actually obstructing justice. Which means Flynn would actually need to be guilty.
This from Comey’s statement has also drawn attention:
“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.”
This, however, is nothing more than speculation. In a courtroom, it would likely be stricken from the record. However, this is a Congressional investigation, not a judicial one.
Will there be legal consequences for President Trump?
It’s likely that the consequences for Trump will be mostly negative publicity. Nothing in Comey’s written statement is sufficient evidence of an impeachable offense. It’s unlikely that Comey will say anything more substantial tomorrow, that wasn’t already in this written statement.
Impeachments, in practice, are more political than fair. In US history, there have been two Presidents impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was convicted by the Senate, however. More importantly, it should be noted that in both cases the vote to impeach was almost entirely down party lines. Congress is more partisan now than it was during the Clinton era. Therefore, a Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to impeach President Trump.
As it is likely to be partisan if they even attempt impeachment, this would cause a backlash of negative publicity. Many would see Trump as having escaped justice because of a partisan Congress. There will be very little talk, however, of the actual evidence. As of right now, Comey’s statements add no solid evidence that Donald Trump obstructed justice. The only possible way I could see this working out against Trump is if Congress takes the above statement seriously AND Trump’s legal defense is so inept that they completely ignore the point I made above, that Flynn would have to be guilty of something for Trump to then be guilty of “obstruction of justice”.