Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Comey’s Testimony Poised To Be Defining Moment Of Trump’s Presidency

By Michael Goodwin
The New York Post
June 7, 2017

For nearly two weeks, it’s been all quiet on the James Comey front. No government leaks, no friends of his issuing veiled threats, no reports of his memos to himself mysteriously becoming public.

Until yesterday, when the dam sprang a few leaks. The full deluge comes Thursday, when the J. Edgar Hoover wannabe spills to Congress. Then it will be all Comey, all the time.

It also will be all hell breaking loose between Comey and the president who fired him.

The television networks certainly hope so, and smelling blood, they’ve cleared their schedules for what they hope will be a historic event. They’re thinking “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” and depending on what the former FBI boss says, and how President Trump responds, their wish could be granted.

The stakes are enormous for both men. Comey left office with few admirers and even fewer friends because of his suspect conduct in last year’s election. Republicans thought he went soft on Hillary Clinton’s ­e-mail case, and Democrats thought he was too hard on her.

Out of office, Comey’s no longer in a position to collect secrets and dole them out based on his own judgment and interests, and is likely to find he has lost the institutional benefit of the doubt from both sides. Instead of blithely asserting his integrity, he’ll have to answer questions with facts, and some of those questions will be hostile, as they should be.

I hope at least one series focuses on leaks — and whether Comey knows who has been disclosing government secrets, and whether he ever did it or authorized it himself. The answer, because he will be under oath, could be surprising.

For Trump, of course, the stakes are monumental. The day is shaping up to be the most important event of his presidency.

Any damaging testimony Comey levels will make it that much harder for the president to push his stalled agenda through Congress as more Republicans pull further away. With his already-low approval numbers, additional declines could put his party at risk in the 2018 midterms.

Then there is the immediate legal risk. Comey clearly aims to damage the president by accusing Trump of asking him to pull the plug on the investigation into former Trump aide, Gen. Michael Flynn.

Perhaps more important, Comey also will be asked why he thinks he was fired. I assume he will cite the Russia probe, and claim he believes that Trump fired him to stop the investigation.

If true, that will be the headline of the day. And if he offers evidence beyond his opinion, Katie bar the door.

Comey may make other charges, too, though it’s not clear we’ll get to hear all of them. Remember, some of his testimony to the Senate intelligence committee will be public, and some will be behind closed doors.

To that end, Comey already met with Robert Mueller, his predecessor at the FBI who was named special counsel and tasked with heading the probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. Mueller reportedly wanted to review Comey’s testimony to make sure none of it compromised the probe.

Trump, then, has to worry about the political consequences of what Comey says publicly, and try to guess what he says privately. Given the complexity, it was wise for the president to hire a lawyer. It would be even wiser for the president to follow the lawyer’s advice.

Presumably, the report that Trump might live-tweet his responses to Comey isn’t part of that advice.

It would make for great TV — but could be a disaster for Trump’s future. Comey is far more experienced at the investigative game, and Trump should be wary of tweeting without knowing key facts, and the legal implications. He could be walking into a trap.

Already, the president has been on a tweeting tear, fighting with the mayor of London and criticizing both federal courts and his own Justice Department. He’s clearly aggravated, and is in danger of overheating just when he needs to remain ice cool.

Comey is a formidable foe, and he’s coming with his guns loaded and is determined to use them. We know this because a friend, Benjamin Wittes, suggested Comey was going for the kill.

“This is a guy with a story to tell,” Wittes told CNN late last month. “I think if I were Donald Trump, that would scare me a lot.”

At the very least, it should scare Trump into being smart and disciplined with his response.


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