Though former FBI Director James Comey didn’t hand over any smoking gun evidence of either collusion between aides to Donald Trump and Russian agents or obstruction of justice by President Trump, his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday did have some political bombshells.
The damage assessment, however, will have to come much later after two very different juries have deliberated: the American people and the Republicans in Congress.
Certainly, no sitting president has endured what Donald Trump just did: a former director of the FBI testifying in open session that he thought the president was a liar. That was the biggest of the bombshells.
“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray,” Comey said of statements made by Trump and aides after he was sacked. “That it was poorly led. That the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
And when Comey was asked why he wrote a memo for the record immediately after an extraordinary private dinner with the president, he said, “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of that meeting.”
Comey also said, in reference to a tweet by Trump implying he had taped the dinner, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
The second bombshell was that Comey believed that Trump wanted some kind of “patronage relationship” that would be improper between a president and the independent head of the FBI. “He’s looking to get something,” Comey said he thought after the president asked for his loyalty.
The third bombshell was one everyone saw coming: Comey believes President Trump was pressuring him to drop investigations of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
After a group meeting in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, Trump cleared the room of everyone except then-director Comey. Comey said Trump told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
Comey testified he took that to be an instruction, one that he disregarded. Some Republicans on the committee argued that there is a difference between a “hope” and an order. Comey didn’t see it that way.
The final bombshell was that Comey believed Trump fired him to change “in some way” the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. The fact this might not have been a surprising revelation for some people doesn’t diminish its gravity.
Republicans on the committee gave only the mildest of supportive gestures to the president, stressing that Comey hadn’t accused Trump of breaking the letter of any law.
So now the jury, mostly in the court of public opinion, will weigh the witness’ testimony. The hearing was as hyped as any in recent years. Both CNN and MSNBC had countdown clocks on their screens, trying to add to the drama.
Trump’s approval ratings, already the lowest ever for a new president, hit new lows this week. Given the exceptional story of Donald Trump so far, it is risky to predict how Comey’s testimony will resonate.
The former director’s appearance before the Senate committee will certainly go into the history books for its drama and the accusations leveled at the president. But the jury is still out on its fallout.