After nearly a month of speculation and waiting, former FBI Director James Comey appeared in a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning to answer questions on the investigation into possible Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
The committee started with both Chairman Richard Burr (R – N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D – VA) stressing the fact that the hearing was not about a political party.
“This whole investigation is not about relitigating the election. It’s not about who won or lost. And it sure as heck is not about Democrats versus Republicans,” Warner said in his opening statement. “We’re here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process — our presidential election.”
It didn’t take long for the questions swirling around the news cycle to get answered, with Burr opening by directly asking Comey if he had any doubts the Russian government attempted to interfere with the 2016 election, if the Russian government was responsible for the DNC and state file hack, and if any votes had been altered due to Russian interference. Comey empathetically answered all these questions with a simple reply: “no doubt.”
He was asked by numerous committee members to describe his interactions with President Trump regarding his job, former advisor Mike Flynn, and the investigation into Trump’s campaign in regard to possible collusion with Russian officials. Comey kept records of these interactions, and not long ago had a friend leak copies of these memos to the press.
“I was alone with the president of the United States, or the president-elect, soon to be president,” Comey said. “I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the president… I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”
While most members of the committee stayed true to the promise of putting politics aside, some notable members from the Republican side of the committee stayed on similar talking points, while others made a point to bring up and compare the situation to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s investigation, one that ultimately brought no charges.
Senator Marco Rubio (R- FL) among others questioned why Comey didn’t go directly to the White House counsel the first time he was told to “drop” Flynn, or further tell President Trump that his actions were inappropriate.
“I don’t know. You know, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m Captain Courageous,” Comey said in response. “I don’t know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, ‘Sir, that’s wrong.’ I don’t know whether I would have.”
Senator John Cornyn (R – TX) spent five minutes questioning Comey about the Clinton investigation. He did not mention Trump’s possible Russian campaign ties once, but it was long-time Senator John McCain (R – AZ) who asked a confusing line of questions from the committee, while incorrectly addressing Trump and Comey multiple times as President Comey and referring to Comey as Trump, making the questions all the more difficult to follow.
“In the case of Hillary Clinton, you made the statement that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to bring a suit against her, although it had been very careless — in their behavior. But you did reach a conclusion in that case that it was not necessary to further pursue her,” McCain asked, trying to understand the difference between the two cases. “I don’t quite understand how you could be done with [the Clinton investigation], but not done with the whole investigation of their attempt to affect the outcome of our election.”
Not long after the open hearing, President Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz released a statement to the public.
“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,” it reads. “Consistent with that statement, the President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go.’ ”
The morning committee meeting was one of two Comey would attend Thursday, with a closed session in the afternoon that would discuss classified aspects of the case and situation.
Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller will be handling the investigation into the alleged Russia ties going forward.