James Comey, the former FBI director whose sudden ouster last month by President Trump sparked a political crisis for his administration, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Senators questioned Comey about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal, his discussions with Trump about ongoing investigations, and about the FBI’s Russia probe. Here are some highlights from our previous coverage:
McCain Explains His Confusing Questioning: I Was Up Late
Senator John McCain caused quite a bit of head-scratching with his questioning of James Comey at the end of the Senate hearing on Thursday, when he appeared to conflate—or confuse—the FBI’s separate investigations into Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign.
The Arizona Republican, in questions that at times seemed incoherent, kept pressing Comey to compare the situations but appeared to have trouble grasping that one inquiry—Clinton’s—ended last year while the one into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is ongoing. “You're going to have to help me out here,” McCain said to Comey at one point. “In other words, we're complete the investigation [sic] of anything that former Secretary Clinton had to do with a campaign is over and we don't have to worry about it anymore?”
“I’m a little confused,” Comey replied, before reiterating again that the Clinton probe ended months ago.
When McCain’s allotted seven minutes had run out, Chairman Richard Burr abruptly cut him off and ended the hearing. Commenters on Twitter wondered if McCain was unwell, and afterward, Senator Marco Rubio told reporters he wasn’t able to follow his colleague’s line of questioning. A couple hours later, McCain issued a statement blaming his performance on a late night watching baseball. “I get the sense from Twitter that my line of questioning today went over people’s heads,” he said. “Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games.”
McCain went on the explain that he was trying to use Comey’s decision to make public his conclusions about Clinton’s actions—when he said “a reasonable prosecutor” would not bring charges—as a way to get the former FBI director to say whether he believed President Trump’s actions rose to the level of obstruction of justice. “While I missed an opportunity in today’s hearing, I still believe this question is important, and I intend to submit it in writing to Mr. Comey for the record,” McCain said.
The senator is a well-known Arizona Diamondbacks devotee, and their game last night against the San Diego Padres did go into the wee hours, ending after 1 a.m. Eastern time. The team responded to McCain’s excuse with a virtual shrug.
Trump Ignores Comey Hearing in Speech to Evangelicals
“We are under siege,” President Trump told an evangelical crowd in Washington on Thursday, just as James Comey was wrapping up his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever.”
The president was not referring to the FBI director he fired or the hearing that was transfixing the capital at the moment. In fact, he never mentioned Comey at all during his speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a socially conservative group whose members supported him during the campaign. Trump was expressing solidarity with their sense that religious Americans, and religious liberty, is under attack. But it was impossible not to hear at least a subtle allusion to the tempest surrounding Trump himself.
During a speech that ran about 40 minutes, the president used the words “obstruct” or “obstruction” several times, accusing his opponents of the very allegation that some of them have thrown at him in reference to the federal Russia investigation. “They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right,” Trump said at one point.
How the president would react to Comey’s testimony was a source of intense speculation leading up to the Senate hearing on Thursday, and there were reports that Trump might even live-tweet a response before he had to leave the White House to deliver his speech. He resisted that urge, leaving it to his son, Donald Trump Jr., and his attorney to respond to Comey. Trump’s speech was rather conventional, as he ran down a list of his accomplishments, attacked Democrats for obstructing his agenda, and pledged his support for the causes evangelicals hold most dear. But the drama going on across town could not have been far from his mind.
Comey: 'I Was Fired Because of the Russia Investigation'
Why exactly did President Trump fire James Comey as FBI Director? Comey believes it had something to do with the federal investigation into potential links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government as part of an ongoing probe of Russian involvement in the presidential election.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, Democratic Senator Jack Reed asked Comey why he was fired. “I don’t know for sure,” Comey said. “I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that. I can’t go farther than that.”
Later, Comey added: “There’s no doubt that it’s a fair judgment in my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.”
Trump himself has publicly acknowledged that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision to fire Comey.
When the president released a letter firing Comey, he pointed to criticism of the former FBI director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe as justification for the decision. Shortly after, however, the president told NBC News’ Lester Holt that he planned to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation.” And he openly said that he was thinking of the Russia inquiry when he made the call. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,” he said.
Should Comey Have Taken Action Over 'Inappropriate' Requests?
Senator John Cornyn took an aggressive approach in his questions to James Comey, zeroing in on the former FBI director’s own conduct and the ethical questions he grappled with over the past several months. Cornyn especially took aim at Comey’s choice to ignore what he believed were presidential requests to stop investigations or compromise the independence of the FBI, asking: “If an FBI agent has reason to believe that a crime has been committed, do they have a duty to report it?” Cornyn also probed Comey’s pledge of “honesty” versus President Trump’s demand of “loyalty” from him.
Cornyn’s line of questioning echoes one taken by Republican Senators throughout the hearing today, which is: If Comey did suspect that President Trump’s demands for “loyalty” and requests to “lift the cloud” on the Russia investigation were “inappropriate” (as stated in Comey’s written statement), or even perhaps bordered on obstruction of justice, why didn’t he act on or report Trump’s conduct? For the most part of Comey’s written response, he mostly ignored Trump’s potential attempts to influence investigations.
Comey’s response suggests that as he understands it, there was no legal duty for him to report or stop the president from potentially engagement in obstruction of justice. He has also outlined throughout the hearing that he had to balance a moral obligation to warn the president and the public with the fact that such a disclosure would have a “chilling” effect on his own agency and would have itself impeded its ability to function independently and effectively on its investigations. Comey’s written statement indicates that he did unsuccessfully attempt to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions into acting as an intercessor with Trump, and also that he attempted to convince the president of the importance of an independent FBI director.
By their prevalence among Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee and via a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan, it appears two threads captured in Cornyn’s questions will dominate GOP responses. First, Trump’s intent matters, and he may not have been trying to obstruct justice when he allegedly leaned on Comey, but was simply unfamiliar with protocol. Second, if Comey did suspect such an obstruction, or even an impropriety, why did he not report the information sooner or stop Trump from doing it?
The core question behind all the drama of James Comey’s firing is one that has occasionally gone overlooked: Did Donald Trump collude with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign?
Senator Tom Cotton put that question directly to the former FBI chief on Thursday. Comey said he couldn’t say—at least not publicly. “That's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting,” he replied. “As I said, when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that's a question that will be answered by the investigation I think.”
Later in the exchange, Comey clarified that he didn’t want his non-answer taken as a suggestion that Trump did collude with the Russians. “I don’t want to be unfair to President Trump,” he said. “I’m not trying to suggest in my answer something nefarious.”
Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico asked Comey Thursday to share what he saw as FBI director and explain what prompted an investigation.
“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose,” Comey said. “They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that. Community and members of this committee have seen the intelligence. It's not a close call. That happened.”
On May 16, 2017, not long after President Trump fired James Comey as FBI director on May 9, The New York Timesbroke the story that Trump had asked Comey to halt an investigation into the president’s former national-security adviser Michael Flynn, citing a memo written by Comey as its source. It now appears that Comey himself orchestrated the leak of that memo in the hope that it would lead to the appointment of a special counsel in the investigation into potential links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
In prepared testimony to Congress, the former FBI director wrote that he began “creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump” after initially documenting an interaction he had with the then-president-elect in January.
During Thursday’s Senate Intelligence hearing, Republican Senator Susan Collins asked Comey if he “show[ed] copies of your memos to anyone outside of the Department of Justice.” Comey responded in the affirmative.
When Collins asked Comey who he showed copies of the memos to, the former FBI director replied: “[The] president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there are no tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, might be a tape, [so] my judgement was I needed to get that out into the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, but asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
Collins asked if the friend in question was “Mr. Wittes,” a reference to Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Comey answered: “No,” adding instead that the person is “a good friend of mine, who’s a professor at Columbia Law School.” Daniel Richman, a Columbia Law School professor, later confirmed he was the source.
On May 18, shortly after theTimes story published, the Department of Justice appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation.
James Comey offered up an eyebrow-raising response to questions from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, including the suggestion Justice Department officials contemplated his recusal before news of his meetings with Russian officials became public. That revelation was significant because Sessions had testified incorrectly before the Senate during his confirmation hearings that he had no contact with Russian officials at all during the campaign.
In his prepared remarks published yesterday, Comey said he decided against telling Sessions about Trump’s February 14 request that Comey drop the Flynn investigation because he and his FBI leadership team believed Sessions would soon recuse himself from the matter. Sessions did indeed recuse himself, but not for another two weeks. Instead, Comey’s testimony states, he asked the attorney general never to leave him alone with the president again.
“In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with Attorney General Sessions even though he had not recused himself,” Wyden said. “What was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?”
“Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons,” Comey replied. But he then added a more interesting detail. “We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
It’s not clear based on the public record to what he might be referring. Sessions had two reported interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign that became public on March 1, one day before Sessions recused himself. Until Comey’s testimony today, that was the only known rationale for the attorney general’s decision to step aside.
Comey also indicated Justice Department officials were discussing Sessions’ recusal prior to those revelations. In addition to the classified matter, Comey and other FBI officials “had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia-related matters much longer,” he told the committee. “That turned out to be the case.”
Comey: There Was No Personal Investigation of Trump During My Tenure
President Trump was not personally the subject of an FBI investigation when he fired James Comey, the former director said Thursday.
Comey confirmed in his written opening statement that he had given assurances to Trump that he was not under investigation even as the FBI was looking into his campaign’s ties to Russia. Under questioning from Senator Susan Collins, he clarified that between those conversations and his firing on May 9, the FBI had not opened an investigation into the president.
Comey said the first time he told Trump he was not under investigation came when he briefed the president-elect on January 6 about the “salacious” dossier that was about to become public. Comey said that given the “very awkward” context of his first meeting with the man who was to become his boss, he wanted to avoid a “J. Edgar Hoover-type situation.” That’s a reference to the legendary former FBI director who wielded influence over multiple presidents based on the compromising material he had access to. So Comey said he told Trump, without prompting, that he was not a subject of the FBI’s investigation because he didn’t want the president to think he was essentially going to blackmail him.
Trump subsequently implored Comey to make public that he was not under investigation, which the FBI director refused to do.
Comey would not be able to say whether the FBI or the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has since opened an investigation into the president.
In response to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark Warner, former FBI Director James Comey outlined why it was important for his former office to remain independent of the White House, and reject the “loyalty” President Trump seemed to desire.
“The reason that Congress created a 10-year term is that the director is not feel as though they’re serving with political loyalty,” Comey said. In the 1930s, when J. Edgar Hoover began his half-century as the first FBI director, there was no such term limit, and Hoover was empowered to defy several presidents and pursue his own broad agenda. According to historian Beverly Gage, the decade-long term limit was created not only to retain the independence of the office that Comey detailed, but as a rebuke to “the wisdom of unlimited tenure” under Hoover.
The six FBI directors who served between Hoover’s tenure and Comey’s firing by the Trump administration have tended to maintain a distance between themselves and the president. Comey’s prepared statements indicate as much. “I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone),” he wrote, “once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016.” Traditionally, even matters of national security and law enforcement that require close coordination between the FBI, Department of Justice, and the White House have rarely involved one-on-one meetings between the bureau director and president.
The purpose of that independence is, of course, one of the main issues circling Comey’s hearing. As an organization involved with investigating crimes and potential foreign manipulation even within the White House, the FBI risks its ability to fulfill its duties if bound by loyalty to the president. Its independence is necessary in basic decision-making and evidence-gathering processes, even outside of major investigations. And it helps protect the bureau itself from suspicion. Or as Comey put it: “The statue of justice has a blindfold on because you don’t expect it to be peaking out for its patron’s approval."
Days after firing James Comey, President Trump suggested on Twitter that there were “tapes” of his conversations with the former FBI director. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” he said. Comey, for his part, hopes there are.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey told California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on Thursday. Feinstein had asked Comey why he didn’t tell the president “this is wrong.”
Comey said that part of the reason was that he was shocked the exchange. “It is a great question. Maybe if I were stronger I would have, I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in and the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind, because I could remember every word he said was playing in my mind, [was] what should my response be and that’s why I very carefully chose the words,” Comey said.
As my colleague Clare Foran noted, Comey began recording his interactions with Trump over concerns had: “Creating written records immediately after one-one one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward,” he said, adding that that “had not been my practice in the past.”
There’s a Donald Trump live-tweeting James Comey’s testimony, but it’s not the president.
President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has been defending his father in real-time, rebutting the former FBI director’s perception that the president directed him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. Comey said that Trump him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” and that he “took it as a direction.”
In a series of tweets, Trump Jr. wrote that as someone who knows his father as well as anyone, “when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means.”
1/3 Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well. I hear "I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job"
The president was reportedly considering tweeting a real-time response to Comey himself, but he has not weighed in during the first hour of the hearing, and he’ll be leaving the White House for an event at noon. His son, who is now responsible along with his brother, Eric, for running the Trump Organization, has apparently taken it upon himself to do it for him.
James Comey shed some new light on what he knew about the Russia investigation at the time of his dismissal on May 9, including a few bombshells for the Trump administration.
First, Comey confirmed the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser. “General Flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy,” Comey said. “There was an open FBI investigation of his statements in connection with the Russian contacts and the contacts themselves, so that was my assessment at the time.”
Comey did not accuse the president of committing a crime during their February 14 meeting—that’s when Trump told Comey he “hope[d] you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” But he indicated it was now an open question for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” he said. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards—to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
He also declined to speak about the Steele dossier, a controversial intelligence file collected by a British spy and given to the FBI last year. The Trump administration has strongly denied the allegations of malign influence contained within the document, and Chairman Richard Burr asked Comey whether the FBI had verified any of its contents. Comey declined to weigh in on its validity.
“Mr. Chairman, I don't think that's a question I can answer in an open setting,” he told Burr. “It goes into the details of the investigation.”
The former FBI director reiterated the intelligence community’s conclusion earlier this year that the Russian government was behind the cyberattacks targeting American political infrastructure last year, including the Democratic National Committee and state voter files. But he also offered one important point of reassurance about the integrity of the American electoral system itself. “Are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered?” Burr asked. “I'm confident,” Comey replied. “When I left as director, I had seen no indication of that whatever.”
Comey Took Notes on Trump Meetings Out of Concern the President 'Might Lie'
Former FBI Director James Comey decided to record the details of his interaction with Donald Trump because he was concerned the president “might lie about the nature of our meeting.”
In his prepared testimony for the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey writes that after meeting with then-President-Elect Trump on January 6th, he “felt compelled to document” the conversation they had in a memo and started typing up an account of what had happened as soon as he left. Comey notes that “creating written records immediately after one-one one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward,” even though “this had not been my practice in the past.” Comey told the committee that he never felt the need to record conversations with Trump’s predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
During Thursday’s hearing, Senate Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, asked Comey why he felt compelled to document the interactions. Comey said there were a number of reasons he decided to do so, but that one of those reasons was because he was “honestly concerned [Trump] might lie about the nature of our meeting.”
Here’s Comey’s response:
A combination of things. I think the circumstances, the subject matter and the person I was interacting with. Circumstances first, I was alone with the President of the United States, or the President-Elect, soon to be president. The subject matter, I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and it related to the President-Elect personally. and then the nature of the person. I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so i thought it important to document. that combination of things i had never experienced before but it led me to believe i got to right write it down in a very detailed way.
The Importance of Bill Clinton's Meeting With Loretta Lynch
James Comey is implicating not one but two presidents in inappropriate behavior on Thursday.
The former FBI director testified that former President Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in June 2016 prompted him “in an ultimately conclusive way” to publicly discuss the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server at a press conference the next month. Republicans had criticized Clinton’s impromptu meeting with Lynch, and although both the former president and Lynch insisted they did not discuss the FBI investigation, Comey said he felt he had to “separate” the FBI and himself from the Department of Justice to avoid the appearance of political interference. Comey then decided on his own to hold a press conference in which he announced that charges would not be filed against Hillary Clinton but that her handling of the private email server as secretary of state was “extremely careless.”
That decision had a domino effect in the campaign, since Comey has already said that he chose to send a letter to Congress 10 days before the election based in large part because he had “a duty to correct” the earlier announcement that the FBI had closed its investigation into Clinton. Comey also confirmed reports that Lynch had urged him to characterize the Clinton probe not as “an investigation” but as “a matter.” That request, Comey said on Thursday, “confused me and concerned me.”
Former FBI Director James Comey shared his concerns about the way Trump handled his dismissal at the outset of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, saying the administration “chose to defame” him and the bureau. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said.
Comey refrained from repeating his opening statement, which was posted by the panel on Wednesday and details interactions with Trump, dating back to January 6. “I have submitted my statement for the record and I’m not going to repeat it here this morning,” he said.
Trump abruptly fired Comey in May. Comey nodded to the sudden dismissal and used the opportunity to deliver a message to the country, saying: “The FBI is honest, the FBI is strong, and the FBI is and always will be independent. And now to my former colleagues ... I'm so sorry that I didn't get to say goodbye to you properly. It was the honor of my life to serve beside you.”
Comey's Two-Part Testimony: Classified and Unclassified
James Comey will be answering questions from lawmakers for most of the day, but the public will only get to see half of it.
The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to depose the former FBI director in a closed session beginning at 1 p.m. ET after his public testimony, Chairman Richard Burr announced at the outset of the hearing on Thursday. The closed session will allow Comey to discuss classified matters that he would not be able to talk about publicly. It’s a common practice for the committee, and one they used on Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and NSA Director Michael Rogers.
That also means that the public won’t hear too much about what exactly the FBI had discovered about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, since that information could be classified. The televised portion of the hearing, therefore, is likely to focus more on Comey’s interactions with the president, which is what he devoted his opening statement to.
'We Cannot Let Anything or Anyone Prevent Us From Getting to the Bottom of This'
Democrats have been eagerly anticipating former FBI Director James Comey’s Thursday testimony on Capitol Hill, and Republicans have been working to downplay what Comey has to say in advance of the highly-anticipated hearing.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Republican and Democrat stressed in their opening remarks that the hearing, and the broader federal investigation into Russian involvement in the presidential election, should rise above partisan politics.
“To be clear, this investigation is not about re-litigating an election. This is not about who won or who lost. And it is certainly not about Democrats versus Republicans,” Senator Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, said in his opening statement. “Simply put, we cannot let anything or anyone prevent us from getting to the bottom of this.”
Warner did not hold back from saying, however, that the “testimony that Mr. Comey has submitted for today’s hearing is disturbing,” emphasizing his concern that in his interactions with the former FBI Director, “the President of the United States [was] asking the FBI Director to drop an ongoing investigation.”
It remains to be seen whether and how much Republicans on the committee will similarly express concern, or if they will instead offer up a defense of Trump’s alleged actions.
In his opening statement, Senator Richard Burr, the Republican committee chairman, concurred with the sentiment that Thursday’s hearing should not be partisan. “We must keep these questions above politics and partisanship,” Burr said.
James Comey is not a candidate for office, but Republicans are treating his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee like it’s a general-election debate.
The Republican National Committee has distributed talking points to party operatives around Washington, and it is inundating the inboxes of reporters with attacks aimed at discrediting the former FBI director before he says a word on Thursday morning. “James Comey Plays Fast and Loose With the Truth” reads the subject line of one email, which goes on to criticize Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The White House had reportedly been considering creating an in-house “war room” to rebut Comey and allegations related to the Russia investigation, but Chief of Staff Reince Priebus outsourced the rapid-response operation to the RNC, which he used to lead.
The irony, of course, is that Republicans were the ones hailing Comey’s criticism of Clinton last year and defending his much-criticized decision to send a letter to Congress just 10 days before the election disclosing that the FBI was examining more emails related to her private server. Now it is Democrats holding Comey up as a paragon of independence. “Nvmd, he’s actually great,” read another RNC missive, mocking Democrats for their turnabout.
Indeed, the fact that both parties have reason to be angry at Comey has inoculated him against the usual accusations of partisanship in Washington, lending more weight to his testimony today.
What’s 600 minus 88? The number of people on Capitol Hill who are about to be very disappointed.
The historic Senate hearing room where James Comey is set to make his post-firing debut cannot possibly contain the hundreds of Capitol Hill staffers, interns, and area residents waiting in line to get in. Their numbers are restricted, in part, by lawmakers in attendance who aren’t questioning Comey, including members of the House Intelligence Committee.
The line for the Comey hearing stretches for blocks. Cops say about 600 people on it. They are only 88 audience seats. pic.twitter.com/M5klyjVAeA
I can’t say whether those in line are aware how few seats there are. Perhaps some just want to be in the general vicinity of the hearing—to remember the moment for their future memoirs or catch a glimpse of the former FBI director. According to The Daily Beast’s Andrew Desiderio, the first person to line up this morning arrived at 4:15 a.m. ET, roughly six hours before Comey’s testimony is scheduled to begin. Some would-be attendees reported arriving outside the building an hour before that.
Here, a sampling of photos and footage from the scene.
Networks have prepared to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming to air the hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. ABC, CBS, and NBC will carry the hearing, as will CSPAN and PBS. CBS, CNN, and Fox News Channel will reportedly air the hearing without commercial interruption. Other media outlets, like The New York Times, will also stream the hearing.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the president has been angry with news coverage of his administration and “has seethed as his agenda has stalled in Congress and the courts”—frustrations evident in his recent tweets. He may use Twitter again on Thursday, as his former FBI director, James Comey, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Post reports:
Comey’s testimony is a political Super Bowl—with television networks interrupting regular programming to air it, and some Washington offices and bars making plans for special viewings.
Trump is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer, two senior White House officials said, including the possibility of taking to Twitter to offer acerbic commentary during the hearing.
“Acerbic” generally describes the president’s posture toward Comey, whom he abruptly fired in May and allegedly called a “nut job” during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. The interactions between the two is detailed extensively in Comey’s opening statement, which was made public Wednesday. White House lawyers released a response to it, claiming that “the president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.”
Comey’s testimony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET. Trump is wont to blasting off tweets at any moment, though reports suggest that Trump “is outsourcing much of the response” to Comey’s testimony to the Republican National Committee, with a team of about 60 staffers on hand. He’s also scheduled to deliver remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference during the testimony.
The question has transfixed Washington for weeks since the Senate Intelligence Committee announced last month it would hear his testimony in public about the circumstances surrounding his abrupt ouster on May 9. President Trump’s sudden dismissal of Comey stirred up a political tempest that has yet to abate. Why was Comey fired? Is the federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government in peril? Did the president obstruct justice? Or have the president’s critics exaggerated the severity of the episode?
Comey himself stayed silent until Wednesday when he released his prepared opening statement for the committee. The former FBI director offered a recital of what he witnessed and experienced over the past six months in spare, deadpan prose. He described uncomfortable one-on-one meetings in which Trump asked Comey to drop inquiries into his political allies, clear him of wrongdoing before the investigation ended, and pledge his loyalty to the president. Comey drew no conclusions in the remarks, instead sticking to what he saw and knew. But the trajectory of what he describes seems clear: an effort by the president to undermine the FBI’s independence and its investigations into Russian interference in the election that placed him in power.
Whether Trump will agree with that characterization remains to be seen. In statements on Wednesday, his lawyers held up Comey’s opening remarks as exoneration of their client, citing the three occasions on which Comey affirmed that Trump himself was not under investigation. But that is only part of his testimony. Comey says he had nine one-on-one conversations with the president, but describes only five in his testimony. Democrats will likely ask him about the other four one-on-one conversations Comey had with the president, as well as any conversations he may have had with other White House officials or members of the Trump administration. Comey will likely decline to comment about details of the Russia investigation itself, but queries about it are virtually inevitable.
Republicans will also have questions for Comey, from a less sympathetic angle. What steps did he take to notify the Justice Department about the president’s purported actions? Why didn’t he inform Congress about Trump’s alleged transgressions into law-enforcement matters? And did he draft any of those fabled memos after interacting with Obama administration officials or even Obama himself?
Looming over the entire spectacle will be Trump, a digital specter who can lash out at a moment’s notice with an angry or derisive tweet. One can’t blame him for being interested in what happens on Capitol Hill today: Comey’s testimony could start to close a tumultuous chapter in Trump’s presidency—or open an even more painful one that haunts him for months or years to come.
The new Netflix film is a think-piece trap—shiny on the outside, hollow on the inside.
“Everyone in this world is one of three kinds,” declares Mamaw (played by Glenn Close), the wise grand-matriarch of Ron Howard’s new film, Hillbilly Elegy. “A good Terminator, a bad Terminator, and neutral.” I hate to correct Mamaw, who is trying to encourage her impressionable grandson, J. D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), to follow a righteous path by invoking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beloved action franchise. But there is no such thing as a “neutral” Terminator; those cyborg heroes exist to either protect or destroy. I cannot imagine what a neutral Terminator would do, save sit in a chair and remain forever shiny and inactive.
Mamaw is entitled to her bad movie opinions, of course. But this monologue is the kind of speechifying that rings hollow throughout Hillbilly Elegy, an adaptation of Vance’s best-selling 2016 memoir that debuts on Netflix tomorrow. When it first arrived on bookshelves, Vance’s story was celebrated as a glimpse into an oft-ignored pocket of America: the white working class of Appalachia and the Rust Belt who swung to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Hailed as an “anger translator” and cited by Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, Vance wrote about growing up poor, living with a heroin-addicted mother, and clawing his way into Yale Law School. The book arrived at a seemingly serendipitous moment, offering a bleak but candid view of communities gutted by drug abuse and poverty.
The U.S. could have hundreds of thousands of fewer births next year than it would have in the absence of a pandemic.
By now, the pandemic has disrupted Americans’ daily lives for nearly as long as a baby typically spends in the womb. This means that many children conceived in mid-March are weeks away from joining us in this disorienting new world, but just as notable are the children who won’t be joining us—the babies who would have been born were it not for the ongoing economic and public-health crises. These missing births, which could end up numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., will make up what’s been called the “COVIDbabybust.”
One would think that a baby bust would take at least nine months to reveal itself, but traces of one seem to have already appeared. As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has noted, births started to decline in California and Florida during the summer. That’d be too soon, though, to reflect a drop in conceptions during the pandemic, or a rise in abortions or miscarriages (which tend to happenearlier on in pregnancy). Three possible explanations, Cohen told me, are errors or lags in states’ data on births, large numbers of pregnant people moving during the pandemic and giving birth in another state, or a large, unexpected drop-off in births that was already going to happen regardless of the pandemic.
Stopping the virus from spreading requires us to override our basic intuitions.
Over the summer, parts of the United States seemed to have a grip on the pandemic. New York and much of the Northeast, for instance, recorded relatively few new infections. The pandemic gloom was taking a less heavy toll than it had in its first months, partly because warm weather made restrictions on indoor activity more bearable.
That sense of control was illusory. As the seasons have changed, the virus has resumed its exponential spread. The public’s willingness to follow health guidelines also feels more tenuous. After months of sacrifice, many people seem simply to lack the will to keep up their social-distancing efforts.
Many factors help explain America’s abject failure to contain the pandemic. A good number of them can be traced back to Donald Trump. But many democracies with able leaders, such as Germany and Canada, are also struggling to contain the virus, so pointing to the president’s lies and incompetence isn’t sufficient.
“We are on an absolutely catastrophic path,” said a COVID-19 doctor at America’s best-prepared hospital.
Perhaps no hospital in the United States was better prepared for a pandemic than the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
After the SARS outbreak of 2003, its staff began specifically preparing for emerging infections. The center has the nation’s only federal quarantine facility and its largest biocontainment unit, which cared for airlifted Ebola patients in 2014. The people on staff had detailed pandemic plans. They ran drills. Ron Klain, who was President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” and will be Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, once told me that UNMC is “arguably the best in the country” at handling dangerous and unusual diseases. There’s a reason many of the Americans who were airlifted from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February were sent to UNMC.
In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks, the French government has introduced new legislation that threatens the very freedoms it vows to defend.
The beheading of the middle-school teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 by a young man enraged by Paty’s showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to vow that France will never flinch in its defense of freedom of expression. In the name of upholding the core values of the French Republic, however, Macron’s government and members of his party have introduced new legislation that effectively restricts them. Unless the proposed laws are modified or scrapped, France will soon be a far less free country than it is now.
Three new pieces of legislation aim to make the French more secure by restricting democratic rights. A bill that sets the research budget for French universities for the next decade, adopted by France’s Senate on November 20, targets student protests and took a stab at academic freedom. The bill includes a provision criminalizing on-campus gatherings that “trouble the tranquility and good order of the establishment” with a fine of up to 45,000 euros and a prison term of up to three years. An amendment requiring that academic research hew to the “values of the Republic” was scrapped only at the last minute, after strong pushback by scholars who feared that its intent was to restrict freedom of inquiry.
At the dawn of the 1960s, a couple of New York admen named Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created the Christmas special. Before that, the networks hadn’t been sure exactly how they should entertain children during the holiday season. They had largely come down on the side of edification, as seen in NBC’s 1951 commission of a children’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast live on Christmas Eve, after which the show lived on in reruns, and—also on NBC—Babes in Toyland, a turn-of-the-last-century operetta based on the Mother Goose tales.
But American children of the 1960s weren’t going to put up with operas and nursery rhymes. We had grown strong on orange juice, casseroles, and chewable vitamins. We weren’t afraid of polio or tuberculosis—we had the Salk vaccine and the tine test. We had had one small step for mankind, 31 flavors, and 101 dalmatians. The previous decade had already established the whims of children as a legitimate market force; in two years, Wham-O had made $45 million on the Hula-Hoop. Rich guys in office buildings were taking us seriously. What did we want next?
The question shouldn’t be whether the president can pardon himself but whether he can grant himself a pardon—and those are not the same thing.
As Donald Trump’s tenure in office comes in for its landing, a major question is whether the president—facing questions about liability for offenses including bank and tax fraud—can pardon himself.
This might seem like the right operational question, but it is imprecise as a constitutional one. Article II of the Constitution says that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Did you catch that? The president has the power not to pardon people, but “to grant … Pardons” (emphasis added). So the question is not whether Trump can pardon himself. It’s whether he can grant himself a pardon.
Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere.
When Fox News called Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden shortly after the polls closed there on Election Night, right-wing social media erupted in fury. Fox is the most conservative of the nation’s major news outlets, and its aggressive Arizona call—which most other national outlets did not follow for days—left true believers on the right feeling betrayed. On the social-media app Parler, which has been gaining popularity among supporters of President Donald Trump, posts alleging electoral irregularities mixed with assorted hashtags decrying Fox itself: #BOYCOTTFOXNEWS, #DUMPFOXNEWS, #FAKEFOXNEWS, #FOXNEWSISDEAD, and #FOXNEWSSUCKS. Throughout Election Day, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been cracking down on a flurry of allegations about voter fraud in Arizona; the platforms quickly applied warning labels to new posts containing false or disputed information and reduced the distribution of groups spreading them. In response, pro-Trump influencers exhorted their followers to congregate on Parler, which tells users to “speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.”
There is no perfectly safe way to gather. That said, here’s how to make the holiday less dangerous.
Most years, in the anxious days before Thanksgiving, I write a health-related FAQ. It’s meant to be fun, reminding us of the timeless risks that spike every year around this day, such as Salmonella poisoning and fires from exploding turkeys.
This year is different. On Thursday, the CDC advised Americans not to congregate with people outside their immediate household. If anything, the advisory understated the risk at hand, saying that “travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” Travel does increase your risk. It should have read: Do not travel.Do not gather. Effectively, Thanksgiving is canceled. Just wait one year, and then have a basically normal holiday. If everyone in the United States did this, we’d likely save thousands of lives.
Counting every person in the country is already a massive challenge, but the census was no match for this year’s chaos.
In the coming months, after years of ground-laying, controversy, and anticipation, the United States will finally complete an imperfect civic process that, though heavily compromised by geography, logistics, and partisanship, will affect the life of every single American for years to come. Also, the country will inaugurate a new president.
The 2020 census, which ended its data-collecting operations last month, seems destined to become one of the most telling artifacts of this very strange year. As a census taker, I got a front-porch view of what happens when a 230-year-old national rite runs headlong into a country all but at war with itself and its institutions. Throughout six weeks of door-knocking in dense New York neighborhoods and Georgia backwoods, I got a good look at 2020 America—not only its demography, but also its deep mistrust of government and diminishing faith in the common good.