Partisan lines hardened on Sunday in the controversy over whether former FBI Director James B. Comey’s compelling sworn testimony last Thursday accurately portrayed President Trump as a liar who sought to impede the federal probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election or constituted a total exoneration of the president’s conduct.
Trump escalated his attack on Comey’s integrity and character this morning with a new tweet while a staunch GOP ally called for an immediate end to the congressional investigations into possible Trump campaign aides’ collusion with the Russians and the president’s subsequent efforts to block the FBI probe that was led by Comey before he was fired early last month.
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At the same time, prominent Democrats and even some Republicans expressed confidence that Comey wouldn’t intentionally lie in sworn testimony and demanded that Trump release evidence to back up his assertions that he never intentionally sought to block the investigation, including any surreptitious taping of his conversations with Comey that may have been made.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), voiced alarm that the mushrooming controversy riveting Washington and the rest of the country is “more like a wrestling match than anything else” – one that is jeopardizing the GOP administration’s agenda of health care reform, tax cuts, and new infrastructure.
“Here’s the question: can you be a street fighter on all things all the time and still be a good president?” Graham said on the CBS News’ Face the Nation. “My advice to the president is that every day you’re talking about Jim Comey and not the American people -- and their needs and their desires and their hopes and their dreams -- you’re making a mistake.”
Comey’s more than three-hour testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee late last week transfixed the country as he described what he characterized as Trump’s persistent, if oblique, efforts to get him to drop an FBI investigation of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn and Flynn’s possible collusion with the Russians to influence the outcome of the election.
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Comey accused Trump of firing him on May 9 over the Russian investigation after repeatedly failing to obtain the FBI chief’s loyalty in the matter and then misleading the public about the reasons for doing so. He declared that Trump and his team told “lies, plain and simple” about him and the bureau’s operations.
Trump lashed out at Comey on Friday during a news conference, disputing key segments of Comey’s testimony -- but notably not those in which Comey confirmed that he had assured the president on three separate occasions that he was not currently a subject of the investigation. Trump told reporters he was willing to share his version of his private meetings with Comey with the special counsel overseeing the Russian investigation and hinted that he might have a tape of their conversations.
Trump tweeted again in the matter early this morning, this time denouncing Comey for behaving “cowardly” by leaking memos to the press detailing the two men’s private conversations.
I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very 'cowardly!'— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2017
During one of those meetings – held in the Oval Office Feb. 14 after the president asked other participants to leave the room – Trump told Comey “I hope you can let this go,” according to one of Comey’s memos.
Within hours of this morning’s presidential tweet, Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney-McDaniel publicly called for a quick conclusion to the Senate and House Intelligence Committee investigations into whether Trump sought to obstruct the investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign. She contends that Comey’s own testimony proved conclusively that Trump’s isn’t under investigation and that there is no evidence he hindered the investigation or colluded with the Russians.
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“I’m calling for an end to the investigations about President Trump’s campaign colluding with the Russians,” she said on Fox News Sunday. “There’s been no evidence of it. I don’t think that should continue.”
Romney-McDaniel’s call for an end to the congressional probes -- as well as a speedy wrap-up to the investigation by Justice Department special counsel Robert S. Mueller III -- is, of course, wishful thinking. If anything, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are just gaining momentum, while Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are agitating for a bigger role in the obstruction of justice portion of the investigation.
Attorney General Jeff Session, a former Trump campaign adviser who had to recuse himself from the federal probe because of his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before and after the election, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, stated flatly today that she found Comey far more believable than Trump on the question of whether the president intentionally tried to derail the investigation of Flynn’s dealings with the Russians.
Related: Here’s the Part of Comey’s Testimony That Could Come Back to Haunt Him
“At this point, I believe the FBI director,” Feinstein told Brianna Keeler of CNN. “I know him the best, I have observed him the longest, I know he has his own band of integrity,” Feinstein said. “I disagreed with him on [his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails] . . . but in this kind of thing, he’s not going to lie. It’s just not in him to do this.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that “the conversations [between Trump and Comey] should not have occurred, there is no doubt about it,” but that there was a possibility Comey misinterpreted the president’s expressions of concern for Flynn as a direct order to end the investigation.
While Collins believed the former FBI director’s testimony was candid, she said she didn’t understand why Comey didn’t simply stand up to the president and say their conversations were inappropriate. Comey admitted during his testimony that he regretted he hadn’t been tougher in standing up to Trump.