Saturday 25 January 2020

Trump vs Comey looks set to run

This Russian saga could last for longer than 'Game Of Thrones', writes David Usborne

No hints: US President Donald Trump swore that he would be saying nothing, then added: ‘Well, I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future’. Photo: Getty Images
No hints: US President Donald Trump swore that he would be saying nothing, then added: ‘Well, I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future’. Photo: Getty Images

David Usborne

We watched in our millions and thus we became the jury. And, as in any case before a court - legal or of public opinion - the nature of our verdict will be determined in part by the personalities of the people before us.

Who is believable? Who seems upright and who doesn't?

The testimony of James Comey, erstwhile director of the FBI, was a wildly anticipated flashpoint in this rare drama. But there is a lot more of this to come. Indeed, the probe now being pursued by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia's alleged meddling in last year's election may outlast Donald Trump's first term.

This thing will have more seasons than Game of Thrones.

And after the former FBI director finished his testimony, Trump went on the counter attack, accusing Comey of lying to Congress and said he was "100 per cent" willing to testify under oath about their conversations.

Trump refused to say whether those private exchanges were taped, a matter at the heart of the conflicting accounts of what passed between them.

It concerns a time when Comey was leading an FBI investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election and its ties to the Trump campaign.

He asserted that nothing in Comey's testimony to the Senate pointed to collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. "Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction," Trump said.

He further denied ever asking Comey for his "loyalty", contradicting Comey's detailed sworn testimony about a private dinner in the White House.

"No, I didn't say that," Trump stated abruptly, taking questions last Friday at a joint press conference with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis in the Rose Garden.

Asked if he would make that denial under oath, he said: "100 per cent"

Trump's aides have dodged questions from reporters for months about whether conversations relevant to the Russia investigation have been recorded, and so did the president in a series of teases.

"Well, I'll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future," he said.

He insisted he was not "hinting anything", before adding: "Oh, you're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don't worry."

The House intelligence committee has asked White House counsel Don McGahn whether any tape recordings or memos of Comey's conversations with the president exist now or had existed.

The committee also sent a letter to Comey asking for any notes or memos about the discussions he had with Trump before being abruptly fired last month.

Comey told the Senate intelligence committee last Thursday about several one-on-one interactions with the president, during which he said Trump pressed him to show "loyalty".

Trump wanted him to back off on the FBI investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and to disclose that the president himself was not under investigation, Comey said.

He said he refused on all points, told senators of the detailed memos he had written after his conversations with Trump and said he hoped they were taped because he is confident of their veracity.

Standing with the president of Romania, Mr Trump at last confirmed his commitment to the Nato alliance's mutual defence pact, Article 5, uttering words he deliberately did not say when he spoke at its gathering in Belgium last month.

He said he was "committing the United States to Article 5".

The president had previewed his attacks against Comey in an early-morning tweet that broke his previous day's silence on his favourite social media megaphone.

"Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication," Trump wrote. It was a stunning accusation, suggesting that the former FBI director had lied to Congress, while under oath.

He also seized on Comey's revelation that he had directed a friend to release contents of memos he'd written documenting his conversations with the president to a reporter.

"...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" Trump wrote at 6.10am. He derisively repeated the "leaker" moniker to reporters in the Rose Garden.

Trump's private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, seized on Comey's admission that he had orchestrated the public release of the information.

Kasowitz is expected to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general next week.

The strategy is familiar from Trump's years as a bullish property developer in New York, where he relied on Mr Kasowitz's legal nous and aggressive litigation to get things done.

However, the complaints could simply add to the number of investigations under way, increasing the sense of a White House overshadowed by questions about the Trump election campaign's ties to Russia.

Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on it, both said they believed Comey's account.

"And I think you saw today the overwhelming majority of the intel members, Democrats and Republicans, feel that Jim Comey is credible.

"Even folks who have been his critics don't question his integrity, his commitment to the rule of law and his intelligence," Mr Warner said.

There was one other thing Comey said: "Sometimes when you start turning over rocks", you find things not related to the original criminal investigation.

We have lots of rocks to go and who knows where this will leave Trump.


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