There are three hopes in many circles about the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and all track back to one thing: will there be anything to come out of it to provide grounds for bringing impeachment charges against #45? The first is that Comey can back up his now famed memo in which he asserts Trump demanded that he stand down from investigations into then National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and the Russia meddling/election connection. The second tracks back to the first hope. That’s that Comey has added documents or even a tape in which Trump actually orders him to back off. The third is that Comey can provide just enough drama in his testimony to make it good media theater.
Those hopes almost certainly will be dashed. The so-called “impeachment clause” in the Constitution lists the thoroughly ambiguous “high crimes and misdemeanors” as one of the crimes that a sitting president must commit for the House to initiate the action, and then the Senate to convict. In Trump’s case, this would fall into the category of obstruction of justice. The Comey memo isn’t enough. Trump will continue to hotly deny that he ordered him to back off from the investigation. Short of a signature from Trump on a memo ordering Comey to back off, it will just be another case of “he said, she said.” Even if the conversation did take place as Comey claims, Trump will pooh-pooh it by claiming that this was just shop talk banter, and there was no malicious intent behind it. The keywords in the alleged memo are “I hope you can let this go.” This comes nowhere near the requirement to bring a criminal case against Trump, that could only come as a direct order.
The only drama so far in the Comey-Trump tit-for-tat is Comey’s firing. This has gotten tons of print ink and hour after hour of cable news chatter. However, testimony before a congressional committee is an entirely different matter. Most of it is long-winded, dry, and almost never produces anything close to the required “gotcha moment,” or a quote that can change the course of political events. Comey is the consummate “just the facts, Ma’am” bureaucrat. The only fact that he’s alleged about Trump is that he made a note about the conversation that he had with him about Flynn. This is hardly Nixonian Watergate stuff. That came complete with tapes of Nixon blatantly orchestrating ways to obstruct justice in the criminal probes of his henchmen.
The only drama so far in the Comey-Trump tit-for-tat is Comey’s firing.
The ones who have beat the drums loudest for something, anything from Comey, to nail Trump on have been congressional Democrats. The few Republican senators who have raised eyebrows about Trump’s conduct have given absolutely no indication that they see anything in Comey’s dealings with Trump that rise to the level of criminal misconduct. The worst that can happen is that GOP leaders will continue to try and figure out ways to further distance themselves from Trump and figure out more ways to get around his antics to ram through their retrograde health care and tax reform plans.
What’s left after Comey is the independent probe by former FBI director Robert Mueller. He’ll be looking at wide-ranging and entangled business and political dealings of Trump and his associates with the Russians to determine if there was perjury, witness intimidation or obstruction of justice by Trump or any of the others in the Russia connection. Or, at the very least, blatant favoritism.
Trump has been battered so long by the allegations of playing footsie with the Russians to steal the election, engage in sordid business deals, and jeopardize national security in the process that he’s developed effective duck and dodge countermeasures. They include pointed denials, blame and finger pointing at his political enemies, mostly Democrats, and at a “fake news media” that’s out to smear him to bump up ratings.
He has a crack legal team that is well-versed on the rules about what public officials can do when it comes to business and government here. They know that eyes are carefully watching him to catch him in any dirty dealing. So, him doing something crudely illegal is almost unimaginable. This brings it back to the hope that somewhere there’s a smoking gun tape or memo with Trump’s voice or signature that proves beyond any legal doubt that he committed some act that falls within the constitutional parameter of what is an impeachable act.
The saving grace in the Comey testimony is that he is testifying and that he did keep a memo of the conversation with Trump about Flynn and Russia. It doesn’t prove criminal malice and it’s not enough to impeach. But it does pile on even more doubt about Trump’s dubious conduct and dealings, and more importantly, his fitness to be called president.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the author of Cosby: The Clash of Race, Sex and Celebrity (Amazon Kindle). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.