Friday, June 9, 2017

Comey's Credibility Is A Problem For Trump

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee set official Washington aflame. The bombshells dropped left and right, from Comey calling the sitting President of the United States a liar on multiple occasions to his intimation that the current Attorney General may have had (another) undisclosed meeting with Russian officials. With so much to unpack, it is easy to get lost in the weeds. But by the end of the day, the President’s lawyer had distilled this politically (and legally) explosive event into something much easier to understand - a “he said/he said” credibility contest between Comey and Trump as it relates to the question of whether Trump asked Comey to end his investigation into the activities of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

And it is easy to understand why this matters. If it can be proven that the President directed Comey to end the investigation, it would be a clear case of obstruction of justice that any first-year law student could prosecute. Republican partisans have chosen to make two arguments - first, that Trump did not “order” Comey to end the investigation, just that he “hoped” he would end it; and second, (and this is the excuse used by Paul Ryan) that Trump is simply naive about the ways of Washington and politics and did not understand the gravity of what he was doing. No big deal, no harm, no foul.

But here is the thing. This is not a “he said/he said” situation where it is simply one person’s word against another’s. The public record we have indicates that the conversation in question, which happened the day after Flynn resigned, happened only after Trump cleared the room of his Vice President, his Chief of Staff, his son-in-law (who is also his adviser), and the Attorney General. Hardly the type of action of a babe in the woods but definitely the type of action of someone who would not want anyone else to able to corroborate what happened behind closed doors. 

Further, Trump may not have expected Comey to create a contemporaneous record of that meeting, but Comey did. That is very significant because contemporaneous notes are considered so credible, they can be admitted into evidence as an exception from the hearsay rule. (See, FRE 803). In other words, a contemporaneous memo written by someone at the time or immediately after an event occurs that describes that event is considered so reliable it is admissible in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein. 

But it is not just Comey’s testimony about that meeting or his memo that should be considered. As he stated before the Senate, he also shared the subject matter of his conversations with the President with at least five of his closest aides, including his Deputy Director and Chief of Staff. All of those men (and they are all men, which is another story for another time) could (and should) be called to testify about what Comey told them.

On top of all this is the context in which Trump's meetings with Comey took place. Sally Yates testified before Congress that she warned White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26th that Michael Flynn had been compromised by the Russians. Less than 24 hours later, Trump had a private dinner with Comey where he (Trump) attempted to extract a "loyalty" pledge from Comey (according to Comey). Flynn resigned on February 13th. Trump's one-on-one with Comey, the meeting where Trump sent out everyone else from the room and asked Comey to drop the investigation occurred, you guessed it, less than 24 hours later - on February 14th.

The near-contemporaneous connection between disclosures about Flynn and his resignation and Trump's meetings with the man investigating those indiscretions belies the idea that Trump is some naive newcomer unversed in the ways of Washington. The temporal connection also suggests motive - we don't know (yet) whether McGahn shared what Yates told him with Trump, but it is hard to imagine a White House Counsel keeping such information to himself. Assuming McGahn shared what Yates told him with Trump, the idea of his asking Comey for "loyalty" does not seem far fetched. Similarly, once Flynn was turfed out (purportedly for lying to the Vice President about his meetings with Russian officials) it is not hard to connect that dot to a request by Trump to drop any further investigation into Flynn - the poor guy had suffered enough <eye roll>. 

On top of Comey’s testimony, his memos, and the statements he made to his senior advisors and aides is reporting by the Washington Post that Trump asked Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, and Admiral Michael Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency, to speak with Comey about scuttling the Flynn investigation. Neither Coats nor Rogers would answer questions posed by Senators about the veracity of the reporting, but importantly, the Post reporting indicates that Coats shared the substance of his conversation with Trump with his own aides and Rogers created a written record. Coats’s aides should be called to testify and Rogers’s memo subpoenaed. 

And if all of that was not enough, of course you have the coup de grậce - Trump fired Comey and then went on national television and said the reason for the firing was the FBI’s continued investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. 

The idea that Trump simply expressed a “hope” to Comey that the case could be closed is belied by the extensive after-the-fact action Trump took with Coats, with Rogers, and ultimately, in firing Comey when he refused to stand down. And against that mountain of evidence that Trump sought an end to the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn - which is itself a greater interference in a criminal investigation than what the House of Representatives deemed obstruction of justice during Watergate - you have a man who settled a fraud case less than a week before he was sworn into office, has been sued thousands to times, and whose lies are so voluminous reporters have tallied hundreds in the less than six months he has been in office. All Trump has is his oft-repeated phrase “believe me.” Believe him? Hardly.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

No comments:

Post a Comment