The Comey hearing: More smoke, wrong fire

About a month ago, National Review editor Rich Lowry called Trump “a human smoke-making machine . . . incapable of a little deftness.”  The headline of his opinion piece in Politico characterized the entire Trump-focused wing of the investigation into Russian election interference as “a scandal about smoke.”

When they saw all the Trump-fueled smoke, said Lowry, the Democrats wanted “to make fire.”  And when Comey suddenly decided he wanted to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee, many on the Left christened this the Great Fire-Making Moment.

The narrative almost wrote itself.  Comey had been director of the FBI; Trump had fired him due to the Russia investigation; Trump had perhaps pressured Comey to let the investigation of Michael Flynn go.  Surely on June 8, the smoke would roll back to reveal a giant conflagration – Comey would accuse Trump of obstruction, let slip that Trump was part of a giant Russian conspiracy, reveal something, anything impeachable.  Doctor visits were canceled, watch parties were scheduled, and cable news networks broke out their countdown clocks.

What are those who pushed that narrative left with now?

Well, Comey did confirm that the leak of his memos was accurate, that Trump told him he “hoped” the Flynn investigation would be dropped because Flynn was, in Trump’s estimation, a “good guy.”  Comey said that due to Trump’s “imperceptible body language,” he took this as a direction to stop the investigation.

But Trump said the very same thing about Flynn to the press, if you recall.  And whatever Comey’s “feelings” about whether Trump meant what he said as a direction, it’s a stretch to use Comey’s feelings as the sole basis of obstruction.  To my knowledge, an “I hope” statement has never been used as the sole basis for an obstruction charge.

Comey went on to reveal that the president had made false public statements, didn’t seem to be that concerned about Russian election interference, had directly asked for his loyalty, and had fired him because of his handling of the Russia investigation.

None of that information was new.  More smoke; no fire.  Collective yawns all around.

Instead, the Comey hearing turned a flamethrower on the charred remains of the Clinton email investigation.  Comey revealed that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had asked him to refer to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s email server as a “matter” rather than an “investigation.”  Perhaps not so coincidentally, this is the rhetoric the Clinton campaign was using at the same time.

What’s that?  Evidence of Lynch’s DOJ colluding with the Democratic Party?  Will wonders never cease.

It’s astonishing to me that Comey chose not to investigate Loretta Lynch in relation to the Clinton email imbroglio after his encounter with her, especially given Lynch’s well-documented meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac in Arizona.  Lynch’s alleged interference in the Clinton investigation must not have had as much “intent” as that alleged in the Trump investigation, I suppose.

Comey’s hearing boiled down to a long, drawn-out attempt by Comey to justify his actions in the Clinton and Trump investigations by slant. It really didn’t work.

Nothing said at the Comey hearing changed my opinion that Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and the Russia election investigation both bordered on incompetence.  Frankly, that’s the only justification Trump needed for his firing, though that’s not the one he gave.  As Mr. Lowry said almost a month ago, Trump reliably produces smoke, but even after today’s circus, I see no accompanying fire.

Connor Mighell

Connor Mighell is a third-year law student at The University of Alabama School of Law, and a graduate of Baylor University with a degree in Political Philosophy. His work has been featured at The Dallas Morning News, SBNation, and Merion West.  Follow him on Twitter at @cmigbear.

3 Comments
  1. This is an interesting piece, and you make some good points.

    However, if there is “no fire” in the Trump smoke, then why is the info about Lynch’s alleged interference, which you say had “as much ‘intent’ as that alleged in the Trump investigation” tantamount to a “flamethrower”?

    The “intent” is “as much”, yet with one it is only smoke, and with the other it is a flamethrower. I don’t get that.

    I enjoyed the article. It was informative and thought provoking. But elevating the revelations about Lynch as being more damning than the info about Trump seems like partisan spin to me. In fact, both are bad. Some of the info about Lynch is new. That is one difference. Also, Lynch tried to give the appearance of being above the fray, while Trump doesn’t really try to hide his dishonesty and lack of principles. But if Trump’s problems are just smoke, then so are Lynch’s.

    1. Hi, Bryan. Thanks for your comment. The sentence about “intent” which left you so bewildered was meant as a joke. When Comey announced that he wasn’t going to recommend charges against Clinton in the email scandal. Comey justified his actions by saying he found no evidence Clinton intended to do anything illegal. However, the crime Clinton allegedly committed does not require proof of intent to establish guilt. My statement about Lynch’s intent was meant as a joke about Comey’s ability to treat intent as consequential in cases when it isn’t. Once again, thanks for reading.

  2. Ok, I see that I missed the joke, and I missed the word “not” which I now understand as sarcasm that seems more to suggest that Lynch’s interference was perhaps worse than Trump’s, rather than suggest equivalence.

    At any rate, your point was NOT to say they were of similar seriousness, so my bad.

    Still, while I agree that the revelation that Lynch asked Comey to use the word “matter” instead of “investigation” is a big deal, I don’t see it as a “flamethrower” vs. just “smoke” from the Trump situation. For one thing, asking the FBI to assist with spin doesn’t constitute interference in the investigation itself. It is totally improper for sure, especially since it is the same word the Clinton administration was using, but it still doesn’t amount to actually interfering with the investigation.

    Your point about Comey treating intent as consequential when it isn’t is well taken. It kind of seemed like he was trying to thread a needle with a legal and logical explanation for his decision. I don’t know the law well enough to know whether he succeeded. However, in my opinion his actions were very beneficial to the Republican candidate (I’m not saying it was intentional). Had he indicted Clinton, I think she would have been replaced as the Democratic nominee. The new nominee would have had a headwind due to not being chosen by the normal process, but probably would have been a MUCH better candidate than Hillary Clinton. By not indicting her he took away the Dems need to replace her, and by being very critical of her he helped her opponent. So it was a win-win for Trump. And then he disclosed very late in the race that more emails had come to light, and needed to be looked at. I won’t argue either way whether that tipped the election, but it was helpful to Trump in a close race.

    I am not knowledgeable enough to assess Comey’s competence or lack thereof, but I think Trump supporters should be grateful for the way he handled the Clinton investigation.

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