BOSTON (CBS) – After two hours and forty-five minutes of questioning of former FBI Director James Comey by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, what have we learned?
Substantively, not much that we didn’t already know.
Comey was especially blunt in his condemnation of President Trump’s harsh criticisms of him and the FBI.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,” he said,” and I’m sorry the American people were told them,” a comment that forced the White House, in a classic echo of the Nixon era, to issue a statement that the president is “not a liar.”
And while he refused to characterize Trump’s request that he “let… go” the probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – a key figure in the whole Russian election meddling investigation – as “obstruction of justice,” he did say “I took it as a direction.”
Otherwise, Comey deflected many questions that speak to the meat of the various ongoing probes.
He provided some valuable context on the topic of “meddling” with FBI work by recounting how Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch asked him to refer to the Clinton e-mail investigation as a “matter,” not an investigation, as if that would in any way mitigate the political damage she was suffering.
But Comey did state flatly that “I was fired to change the way the Russian investigation was conducted,” a claim that will keep the obstruction speculation percolating.
And for my money, perhaps the most interesting thing about today’s session was the demeanor of the Republican senators on the panel.
With the exception of a confused-sounding John McCain, who accused Comey of practicing a double-standard by closing the Clinton e-mail probe while continuing the Trump investigation while he was heading the FBI, no GOP senator came close to questioning Comey’s credibility, something the White House has been urging its surrogates to do.
As congressional hearings go, this was an outlier.
Normally, they are a forum for migraine-inducing posturing and partisanship by members.
But today there was little of that. The questioning was sober, monologues were kept to a minimum, and there was clear bipartisan agreement that the Russian hacking is not a “hoax” or “fake news” as the president has described it.
Keep in mind, the president’s future – if not in terms of impeachment, then certainly in terms of political stature and public trust – depends on the GOP majorities in Congress standing by him, not just on the Russia matter, but on policy matters.
Today’s hearing indicated that these senators, at least, are not going to go over the cliff with Trump if that’s where they conclude he’s heading.