James Comey and Jeff Sessions Testified, But Now What?
Reporting by Elena Sheppard.
We are all understandably glued to the daily unraveling on America’s political stage, but with the near-hourly developments, it’s very easy to lose a story’s thread and suddenly find yourself laughably far behind on what’s happening and what’s already happened. While there are myriad stories to look at, today let’s focus on the ongoing investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election. It’s an investigation which has morphed into a larger probe about what Trump and his cohorts knew about this interference and if they perhaps even wanted it. A lynchpin here is Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey (who was looking into the Russia issue) and whether or not removing Comey is tantamount to an obstruction of justice.
There are tons of people in the Trump world who seem to be implicated in the Russia ordeal, and from an outsider’s perspective, as soon as then-FBI Director Comey got too close to the truth, he was fired. If we’re wrong and his firing was not a direct result of the Russia investigation, then the timing was uncanny.
Last week, Comey was called before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify about the situation and nearly 20 million people watched. This week Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the same committee, but we seem no closer to uncovering what really happened. But what did we learn? What do we know? And what happens now? If you’re confused, we totally understand, there’s a lot to keep track of. Let’s talk it through.
Ok, let’s start with Comey; what do we need to know?
Uh, basically that he thinks the president is a lying liar. When asked why he took notes after meeting with the president, he said he was “concerned that [Trump] would lie about the nature of [their] meeting.” When asked about the tapes that Trump claims to have of their private conversations, Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” — as he obviously thinks they would prove his honesty and the president’s dishonesty. Comey also seems to be pretty confident that Russia has been meddling in our politics, and that POTUS was trying to strong-arm him into dropping inquiries into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to the Russian government. Comey also said that POTUS wanted him to pledge his loyalty to him in kind of spooky way. Bottom line: the whole testimony was pretty damning against Team Trump.
And what about the Sessions testimony?
We learned almost nothing, mostly because the attorney general answered a massive portion of the questions posed with the phrase, “I don’t recall.” He did definitively say that he didn’t collude with the Russians, calling the suggestion that he might have (made by Comey, no less), “an appalling and detestable lie.” He also, for reasons that still don’t make sense to many people, wouldn’t discuss during the questioning any of the private conversations he has had with the president. The reason this confused people is because Trump did not invoke executive privilege, which would have mandated those conversations be kept secret. The question remains, why is Sessions doing this and if he’s innocent, then why didn’t he talk more? As Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said to Sessions during the questioning, “your silence speaks volumes.”
Will anyone else testify?
Yes it’s possible. The committee does want to hear from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (who wrote a memo to Trump about why Comey should be fired) and possibly from Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner as well (his ties to Russia have been found to be stronger than previously thought). Others on the short list include Roger Stone (who considers himself to be a long-time confidante of the president), Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign Carter Page.
What about Robert Mueller? Who’s that?
He’s a former FBI director and he’s leading the simultaneously occurring special council investigation into possible Russian collusion. There are rumors that Trump wants to fire Mueller — which would be a spooky parallel to when President Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation. So far, Trump has not fired Mueller and the White House claims that rumors that he wants to are nothing more than rumors. Mueller’s case is focused on criminality and will eventually culminate in a decision about whether or not charges need to be filed — most notably whether or not Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice when it comes to Comey and his probes into Russia.
Is there enough evidence to charge Trump with something or even impeach him?
No. Not yet, so far not even close. Many Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, think that this whole thing should just play out. If Trump does fire Mueller, then she predicts fellow Republicans will begin to turn on him. Pelosi reportedly said she thinks Trump is “going to self-impeach.” Basically meaning that she thinks he’ll do something so egregious that impeachment won’t be a question, it will be a necessity. In the meantime, there’s something to be said for Dems laying low and letting Trump self-implode.
What is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s end game?
To get to the bottom of what happened and determine if there really was Russian interference. This committee is not equipped to make criminality decisions, but they are equipped to get to the bottom of information. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation, headed by Mueller, is also simultaneously ongoing. Point being: a lot of people are spending a lot of time looking into the potential Trump/Russia tie.
What should the president do?
Literally nothing. Stop tweeting, hang tight, stop interfering and let this all play out. Throughout this entire process, the president has not stopped tweeting — and has undermined his lawyers, his advisors, the White House, and himself, in the process. If he were to keep his fingers off the keyboard and defer to his legal team, he’d be in a much better place.
So what’s next?
We’ll see who else is called upon to testify, and we’ll take things from there. We’ll need to see if the Senate Judiciary Committee calls upon Kushner, or any of the other aforementioned players to testify. Meanwhile, our eyes will also be on Mueller and what he comes up with — if he determines that Trump obstructed justice, impeachment could be on the table. But this entire thing has been such an onion of disarray and confusion and stupidity, that who even knows what the next layer will bring.