What We Didn't Learn From Comey's Testimony
The former director of the FBI revealed many things during his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, but what's much more interesting is what James Comey declined to answer. Several times, he said he was unable to answer a question due to being in an open setting. And what he wouldn't say begs the question of how much else is actually happening behind the scenes.
There were plenty of things that were revealed. For instance, Comey is certain that he was fired due to the Russian investigation. He said he released his memos because the president had mentioned the possibility of tapes, lending further credibility to his reports. He also called the president a liar multiple times, said that what the president asked him to do was inappropriate, and hinted that he was unwilling to put his reputation on the line by confronting the president on these issues, as it was his word against Trump's.
Information on all the things Comey wouldn't talk about — the FBI's thoughts on the Steele dossier, the Flynn-Russia connection, and even the Trump-Russia connection — could come over time, given that there was a closed session of the hearing afterward. But for now, there's a lot we still don't know.
If The Steele Dossier Is Legit
Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) was the first to ask about the controversial "Steele dossier." He asked whether the FBI had any information regarding the criminal allegations in the document. When Comey said he could not answer in a public setting, Burr tried to get at it in another way; he asked how the FBI handled counterintelligence documents and what Comey's reaction was to the dossier. Comey again declined to answer.
Angus King (I-ME) again asked about whether the dossier was still being examined. Comey also declined to answer that.
Why Some Memos Were Unclassified
Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman for the committee, asked about why some of Comey's memos were marked unclassified. He referred to the Feb. 14 meeting, where Trump allegedly first discussed Michael Flynn with the then-FBI director. Warner asked if the notes were written in a way that "the facts of that meeting would have to come clean and come clear."
Comey said that classified material sometimes gets "tangled," and that an unclassified document made it easier to discuss within the FBI. He repeated this answer when the question of classification again came up with Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). But Comey's answers to the issue overall seem unclear and a little vague.
Just What Is Going On With Michael Flynn?
There were many questions on Flynn, but the most interesting bit was his possible involvement with Russia:
Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to press him, asking whether Comey ever came "close to closing the investigation" on Flynn. He also asked whether the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador were illicit. Comey declined to answer both questions.
Interestingly, Comey did let slip that Flynn might not have been important to the Russian investigation. When King asked, "Would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?" Comey responded that it was unlikely. "I saw the two as touching each other, but separate," he said.
Whether Trump Cared About Potential Russian Involvement
What we learned from Comey was deeply troubling. I'm more concerned than ever about Trump’s attempts to derail the Russia investigation.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 8, 2017
It is clear that Trump cared about his own connections to Russia, but perhaps not on supposed interference. When Heinrich asked, "Do you find it off that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia's actions in our elections?" Comey replied that he didn't have enough information to answer that question.
King and Joe Manchin (D-WV) also asked questions along these lines, which Comey skirted around. Comey clearly was avoiding direct contact with Trump, but this information — whether the president was actively worried about possible involvement — seems to be answerable. It is strange that Comey didn't sense urgency from the president regarding the issue.
What Is The Russian Bank VEB?
Comey can't talk about Putin slush-fund VEB in an open session but you can read about it here: https://t.co/xocwTRU2E4— Elias Groll (@EliasGroll) June 8, 2017
Apparently, it's a big deal. The bank is close to the Russian government and there have been alleged ties to people close to Trump. When asked about it by King, however, Comey said he couldn't talk about it in an open setting.
What Kind Of Evidence The FBI Has Regarding Russian Interference
One of the most interesting things Comey said in the whole hearing was that "there have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff but about Russia that are dead wrong." This implies that we might, in fact, not know anything at all.
When Heinrich asked about the risks of a transition team setting up channels with a "hostile foreign government," Comey's response was, "I'm not going to comment on whether that happened." But Heinrich's question wasn't whether that happened, but what the risks were. It sounds like he let slip that there's more to this story.
So ... Was Trump Colluding With Russia?
Comey said clearly that Trump was not personally under investigation. What he declined to answer, however, is whether there was evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. He refused to answer the question when asked point-blank by Cotton.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) pressed him on this issue, too. She asked whether there were any unacknowledged meetings between Trump administration and Russian officials, whether there were any encrypted or concealed communications between the two, and whether there was evidence of destroyed or tampered documents. Comey remained tight-lipped.
While Comey revealed quite a bit in his hearing, the things he left out seem to be just as important. It might have been foolish for the senators to focus on whether Comey knew he would be fired when they could have pressed upon some of the issues outlined above.