A little more than a week after former FBI Director James Comey spent six hours testifying before the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, and after President Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage accusing Comey of lying to Congress and suggesting his “mind exploded,” the House Republicans asked Comey back for more.
If that first session exposed the delusional levels to which congressional Republicans are willing to sink in order to protect the president, this second session may have proved how much they have bought into their own phony narratives.
1. At one point, in focusing on the process Comey followed to have the FBI interview national security adviser Michael Flynn, Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Comey if he had “followed the protocol with Presidents Bush and President Obama.” Comey responded, “I don’t remember having occasion like this with either of those presidents.”
Republicans still won’t accept the fact that what is happening right now with President Trump is unprecedented ― in their minds, for every accusation against Trump, there must be an equivalent or greater crime by a Democrat.
2. Trump would have the American people believe that Flynn was tricked into lying to the FBI. Gowdy did his best to bolster this narrative with his questioning, asking Comey head-on, “Why not advise General Flynn of the consequences of making false statements to the FBI?”
Comey’s response: “Two reasons, really. First, the Deputy Director called him, told him what the subject matter was, told him he was welcome to have a representative from White House counsel there. So, he knew what he was going to be asked about. He was an extraordinarily experienced person and so reasonably should be assumed to understand you can’t lie to the FBI. Second, it’s not protocol. The FBI does not do that in noncustodial interviews. And, third, you want to find out what the witness will say to you before you heat up an interview by raising the prospect that the witness might be lying to you.”
For anyone questioning why Comey could not, as Trump asked him to, let the Flynn matter go, Comey clarified what was really at stake: “Our focus was it appeared that the National Security Advisor was lying to the Vice President about his communications with the Russians, and that made no sense to us, and we wanted to understand what is happening here.” It says a lot that neither Trump nor congressional Republicans seem to care at all about finding the truth.
3. Just as they did during the first day of testimony, Republicans spent a lot of their time trying to get Comey to answer hypothetical questions. A very annoyed Gowdy asked Comey directly why he wouldn’t answer hypothetical questions. Comey’s response: “Because I’m not. It is irresponsible to answer hypotheticals. I tried to do a lot of it last time. I will answer factual questions, but the what-ifs and what-abouts, I’m just not going the answer those.”
I spent five years working at the House Oversight Committee and, while reading this exchange, I thought to myself, “This is getting really embarrassing for the GOP.”
4. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is poised to become the Oversight panel’s chairman in a few weeks, asked Comey about something he tweeted the day before. “Why do you believe that President Trump was, quote, ‘lying about the lawful execution of a search warrant in the case of Michael Cohen’?”
Comey pointedly stated that “I believe he was lying because he knows that the office was searched pursuant to a Federal judge’s issuance of a search warrant… and the notion that the President of the United States, who has taken an oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, is going to say that kind of thing about his own Department of Justice offended me...”
It’s nothing revelatory, but it raises the question of why House Republicans decided to once again give Comey, a highly credible witness, a platform to call the president a liar.
Cummings continued, allowing Comey to lay out what’s really at stake in the president’s criticisms of law enforcement: “What is the harm and the concern to national security when the President makes these kinds of statements, like the tweets that I just read you?”
Comey’s response: “Millions of people believe what the President says... And that is a situation that puts us at risk in the short term, that the FBI and the Justice Department will not be trusted or believed. At a doorway trying to recruit a source, in a courtroom where they say, “I found this in the left dresser drawer of this gang member,” and they won’t be believed because the President of the United States has convinced millions of people that they’re corrupt, when that’s a lie.”
This exchange is one more reason why I think Cummings is going to be a very effective chairman.
5. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), meanwhile, joined Gowdy in using his time to amplify one of the president’s favorite conspiracy theories. “Did the FBI or any government agency ever record President Trump or surreptitiously obtain recordings or transcripts of recordings, whether audio or video, of President Trump?”
Comey’s straightforward response, “Not to my knowledge,” will surely do nothing to keep the president or his defenders from continuing to cast Trump as the victim of a “deep state” plot.
6. Perhaps the most striking moment of the hearing was when Cummings teed Comey up for a blistering critique of the president and the Republican Party as a whole:
You probably know this, but for most of my adult life I considered myself a Republican. And Republicans used to believe, I think, that a president’s words matter, that institutions matter, that the rule of law matters, and that the truth matters. ... Shame on those who, because they’re afraid of the base or their job or being tweeted about, don’t speak up. I don’t know what they’re going to tell their grandchildren, because that silence is complicity. That worries me deeply.
On Monday night, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted, “Republicans should stand up to Comey and his tremendous corruption.… The president did the country a service by firing him and exposing him for the shameless fraud he is.”
She would do well to remember it was congressional Republicans who made the decision to have Comey testify, not once but twice. And if anyone was exposed as a shameless fraud in the process, it surely wasn’t him.
Kurt Bardella is a HuffPost columnist and served as a spokesperson and senior adviser for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2009 to 2013. Follow him on Twitter at @kurtbardella.