Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The second time as farce....

Doesn't he have something better to do?

Howard Fineman on the House Intelligence Committee hearing with James Comey:

The director of the FBI, with the director of the National Security Agency agreeing at his side, in effect called the president of the United States a liar ― and, oh, by the way, the president’s 2016 campaign indeed is under investigation for allegedly having secretly teamed up with Russia to win the election.

After two months of Donald J. Trump’s presidency and more than a year of his campaign, our political senses are so dulled by tumult that we can barely recognize history when we see it. Make no mistake. Monday’s hearing was all but unprecedented.

Not since a White House aide named Alexander Butterfield told the Watergate committee in 1973 that President Richard Nixon had bugged his own Oval Office has an investigative hearing made it so clear that a presidency was in serious legal jeopardy.
And part of the response of the White House, through Sean Spicer:

“Right, and I’m not aware of any at this time, but even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then obviously there has been some discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time, but beyond that –

“He was the chairman of the campaign!” ABC’s John Karl interjected.

Spicer continued without acknowledging Manafort’s role in the campaign.

“No, no, nothing that has not been previously discussed,” Spicer said, referring again to potential contact between Trump associates and Russians. “I just don't want to make it look like we’re not aware of the stuff that’s been…” he trailed off.
Fineman doesn't mince words in response to that:

That is a flat-out lie. Manafort ran the campaign from the spring of 2016 ― to the extent anyone could actually run it ― until after the GOP convention. 

And the POTUS Twitter account sounded off in the middle of the hearing:

But Comey downed that effort*:

"It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today," Comey answered. "We don't have any information on that subject. That's not something that was looked at." 
And when Adam Schiff noted that Roger Stone had contacts with Guccifer 2.0, a Russian hacker implicated in the Wikileaks Democratic Party e-mails leak, Stone didn't deny it, but he did turn the revelation into a conspiracy theory by trying to get the band back together:

He insisted that his interaction with Guccifer 2.0 was "benign in its content" and said that it took place after the DNC had been hacked.

"This is does not constitute collusion," Stone said. "I had no contacts with Russians. This one has been manufactured by the intelligence service with a nice assist from [billionaire philanthropist George] Soros and [David] Brock. I'm not gonna stop fighting for Donald Trump, nor are they going to silence me. I am anxious to go to the committee. Let's see if they can handle the truth." 
Soros and Brock?  That's practically a blast from the past.  Speaking of which, the beat goes on:

“He said that there is no information to support the allegations that the President made against President Obama,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl told Spicer, referring to Comey, before the press secretary cut him off.

“At this time,” Spicer said.

“So is the President prepared to withdraw that accusation and apologize to the President?” Karl asked.

“No,” Spicer responded. “We started a hearing. It’s still ongoing. And then, as Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one of a series of hearings that will be happening.”
Because Congress apparently has investigative abilities denied to the FBI; or something.  Although James Comey, David Nunes and Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr and Mark Warner of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, President Barack Obama, the British Government (whom I indelibly see in the person of Mycroft Holmes), have all said there is no evidence to support Trump's claims.  If Chapter Two is going to rewrite that, the plot of this thing is hopelessly buggered.

Fineman makes several points in support of his thesis that history was made in the hearing room with Comey.  Among them:

1)  If the FBI put Manafort and Flynn under pressure, would they start revealing what they know about Russia and the Trump campaign?

2)  Even GOP leaders aren't going go get between Trump and evidence connecting him to Russia.

3)  "Comey made it clear Monday that he was speaking out with the approval of the Department of Justice – which means Attorney General Jeff Sessions. History buffs will hear the echoes of Watergate. Nixon sealed his own doom by demanding that Justice fire the man investigating him."

Connect that last one with the reports of Trump installing "commissars" to be sure his Cabinet Secretaries remain loyal to Trump, and a repeat of Nixon's failed attempts to save himself may well be in the offing.

At least that's where I ended when I wrote this; but emptywheel stayed around for the end of the hearings:

Note that point: the practice has been that FBI won’t brief the Gang of Four until after they’ve briefed DOJ, the DNI, and the White House. Stefanik goes on to ask why, if FBI normally briefs CI investigations quarterly, why FBI didn’t brief the Gang of Four before the last month, at least seven months after the investigation started. Comey explains they delayed because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
"That point" is a point I leave to the link.  But there is a great deal more going on here than Republicans trying to obfuscate the point of the hearings, or Comey refusing to comment on very much.  The implication of Comey's answers about the delay in passing out the information implicates both Flynn and AG Sessions; or, to be fair, maybe not.  But Howard Fineman was definitely on to something:  Donald Trump is going to need a good lawyer before this is over.

*WaPo later noted that Trump had a very bad Twitter day.  Is Twitter Trump's way of accessing the people; or of lying to them?

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