Donald Trump

Reactions to James Comey's Testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee

By Shannon Togawa Mercer, Sarah Grant
Thursday, June 8, 2017, 2:42 PM

We’re rounding up key public statements concerning James Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8. Watch this page; we'll update as new statements are issued.

Written Statement by Marc Kasowitz, Attorney for Donald Trump:

Public Statement to the press (Video)

Contrary to numerous false press accounts leading up to today’s hearing, Mr. Comey has now finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told the President privately: The President was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference. He also admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.

Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President. The leaks of this privileged information began no later than March 2017 when friends of Mr. Comey have stated he disclosed to them the conversations he had with the President during their January 27, 2017 dinner and February 14, 2017 White House meeting. Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends his purported memos of these privileged conversations, one of which he testified was classified. He also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of these memos to the press in order to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”

Statement from the Department of Justice:

Given Attorney General Sessions’ participation in President Trump’s campaign, it was for that reason, and that reason alone, the Attorney General made the decision on March 2, 2017 to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

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During his testimony, Mr. Comey confirmed that he did not inform the Attorney General of his concerns about the substance of any one-on-one conversation he had with the President. Mr. Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House. The Attorney General was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House.

Senators

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC):

This is nowhere near the end of the investigation.

Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-TX):

I don't believe there is [evidence of obstruction of justice].

You know, I think we’re in the midst of an investigation now and we need to look at the memos that the FBI director dictated to be used to prepare his testimony and there’s a lot of information we need but we haven’t concluded our investigation.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA):

It’s important that we know all of the facts before formulating any conclusions on this matter. We must let the special counsel and bipartisan congressional investigations continue in earnest and follow the facts where they lead.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 6/8/17:

Look, we're not there yet. And there shouldn't be a rush to judgment. There's a lot of work that has to be done.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 6/9/17:

As a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, I see firsthand the distinction between the legal and counterintelligence aspects presented by Director Comey’s testimony this week. It is my strong recommendation that the Judiciary Committee investigate all issues that raise a question of obstruction of justice. These issues should be developed by our legal staff, presented to us, and be subject to full Committee hearings.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

If you think the special counsel believes there was obstruction of justice, he was the biggest idiot in the world to let his chief witness go through this. Mueller is not an idiot. Mueller has concluded in my own mind that there's not going to be an obstruction of justice case because he wouldn't have allowed Comey to testify.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA):

Quite frankly, if there was pressure brought to bear then you would expect it would be reported as a crime and action taken. Obviously, I think the answer to your question is that Comey didn’t do anything about that.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM):

I think there’s enough there that we should be very, very concerned about what went on.

I think Bob Mueller will be able to answer that question [whether there’s obstruction of justice] and I trust him to answer it accurately.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

I have sought for months to clarify Attorney General Sessions’ contacts with Russian officials following his false testimony in response to questions from me and from Senator Franken. We wrote to the FBI requesting that they investigate such matters. I am also deeply concerned about the Attorney General’s role in firing Director Comey in light of his recusal from the Russia investigation. I led Democratic Judiciary Committee members in a letter asking the Inspector General to investigate. Former Director Comey testified today that he expected the Attorney General to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, weeks before the Attorney General made that decision himself, because of matters that could not be discussed publicly. This raises even more questions about the Attorney General’s actions.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):

Interview:

As I’ve said for months we need a select committee to investigate this. Every few days another shoe drops...I have hundreds of outstanding concerns...this is the classic scandal. It isn’t the same as watergate, it isn’t the same as Iran-Contra, but it has the same earmarks of a new revelation every few days.

Statement:

What I was trying to get at [with my questions] was whether Mr. Comey believes that any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice. In the case of Secretary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Comey was willing to step beyond his role as an investigator and state his belief about what ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would conclude about the evidence. I wanted Mr. Comey to apply the same approach to the key question surrounding his interactions with President Trump—whether or not the President’s conduct constitutes 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.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT):

It’s hard to overstate the impact of Jim Comey’s testimony today...Every day, it seems like the walls are closing in on this president. What’s most important is that investigators in the Senate and at the Department of Justice get all the facts and find the truth. If the White House’s account differs from what we heard today, the American people deserve to hear the president’s side of the story in a similar forum – under oath and open to the press.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL):

I’m not prepared to reach a conclusion on [whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice], because we’re not done with all the other pieces that are missing.

I don’t think anybody would leave this hearing and say to you that what the president said in the Oval Office on the 14th of February was appropriate.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC):

It’s sort of like the build-up to a big Super Bowl game and everybody gets disappointed...They were expecting a bombshell, what they got was a confirmation of what we knew already. There was very little new information.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA):

One message I hope all Americans will take home is recognizing how significant Russian interference in our election was.

Representatives

Rep. Peter King (R-NY):

[The testimony was] much more positive than negative for the president.



If the president doesn’t get baited into tweeting, I don’t see how the story remains on the front pages... I think the intensity of the story will diminish after today.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) (on Twitter):

Today, Comey testified he was directed to drop a case involving National Security Advisor, and fired to alter course of Russia investigation

Comey wrote memoranda about his conversations because he worried that @POTUS would misrepresent them. That fear has already been vindicated.

If there are indeed tapes of Comey's conversations, they need to be preserved and made immediately available to Congress and Mueller.

Legal Experts

Norman Eisen and Noah Bookbinder:

Mr. Comey has now given us direct witness testimony of obstruction by the president in the form of the already famous statement “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey repeatedly added in today’s questioning that “I took it as a direction” that “this is what he wants me to do.” In a system governed by the rule of law, shutting down an investigation to benefit a friend — or perhaps, to keep damaging information that friend may know from emerging — is corrupt.

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But strong initial evidence is not the same as a slam-dunk case, and Mr. Comey’s testimony also made clear how far we have to go before the question is definitively resolved.

Elizabeth Goitein, Brennan Center:

The rule of law, however, should never be a partisan issue. Although senators questioned Comey closely on his response to Trump's inappropriate comments, they did not question his version of events. They seemed to accept that Trump made the statements Comey attributed to him —namely, that he hoped Comey would "let go" of the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. At that point, all partisanship should have receded, and the committee should have been unanimous in its condemnation. A president asking the FBI investigator to drop an investigation into the president's associate is a clear-cut case of obstruction of justice.

Eric Posner, law professor:

Based on what I’ve seen, I think that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice in the legal sense. Clearly, Comey understood that Trump wanted him to stop the investigation of Flynn, and that understanding was reasonable in context. Plus, of course, Trump did fire Comey. Whether this matters, though, is a political question, which boils down to whether Republicans will be sufficiently disgusted with Trump to withdraw support. That I cannot predict.

Laurence Tribe, law professor:

The "only impropriety, and perhaps illegality, in connection with the Comey release of his conversation with the President and of the memo recording was that of Trump, threatening the former FBI Director through Marc Kasowitz yesterday."

Jonathan Turley:

Yet, Trump could ask why Comey would use a third party to leak these memos if they were his property and there was nothing improper in their public release.

In fact, there was a great deal wrong with their release, and Comey likely knew it. These were documents prepared on an FBI computer addressing a highly sensitive investigation on facts that he considered material to that investigation. Indeed, he conveyed that information confidentially to his top aides and later said that he wanted the information to be given to the special counsel because it was important to the investigation.

Many in the media have tried to spin this as not a “leak” because leaks by definition only involve classified information. That is entirely untrue as shown by history. Leaks involve the release of unauthorized information — not only classified information.

Mark Tushnet, law professor:

So far there's nothing that dramatically changes the picture — lots of pieces of evidence that could go into making a criminal case and very little to weaken such a case but nothing that in itself shows criminal intent.

Alex Whiting, law professor and former federal prosecutor:

I think Comey’s testimony, both written and oral, strengthened the case that Trump’s February 14 request to drop the Flynn investigation constituted obstruction. Trump had demanded Comey’s loyalty at the January dinner, and then at the White House he cleared the room of all other senior officials before making his request. Comey understood the request to be a directive or order and was shocked and disturbed by it, as were other senior FBI officials. Whether it’s a case that a prosecutor would choose to charge, and whether it warrants impeachment, are separate questions that can be debated. But Comey’s testimony made out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.

Keith Whittington, Princeton University:

As a general matter, the president can withhold documents or testimony from Congress on the grounds that such information, if made public, would damage the national interest. In particular, our constitutional tradition has recognized that presidents must be free to receive candid advice from officers in the executive branch, and that the quality of such consultation and deliberation would be damaged if Congress or the courts could easily force the executive branch to open them to public scrutiny. . . . No executive branch official can be deterred from offering frank advice to the president by the possibility that that same official will at some point in the future want to tell the story of what happened in that meeting. The nation's interest in preserving executive privilege does not extend to voluntary revelations of the president's own statements. The only interest being served in that case would appear to be Donald Trump's own personal interest.

Steve Vladek, law professor:

Of course, none of this means that Comey acted “appropriately” in orchestrating the leak of his memos. Not for the first time, it appears that Comey took it upon himself to breach important norms governing the conduct of senior law enforcement officials — an offense that, perhaps ironically, would have unquestionably justified his termination, if he hadn’t already been fired before doing it. And reasonable minds can and surely will disagree about whether such breaches of protocol were justified under the circumstances.

But nuance in this context matters. Kasowitz and Trump’s defenders are not arguing that Comey only acted inappropriately; they are arguing that Comey acted unlawfully and in violation of executive privilege. Neither claim is correct — and those suggesting to the contrary do and should know better.