The highly anticipated testimony of former FBI Director James Comey delivered devastating blows to the legal accusations against President Trump Thursday, but a former federal prosecutor says the political damage inflicted by Comey and the overall investigation could end up being a major wound.
In the hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey confirmed that Trump is not and never was personally under investigation by the FBI as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and, critically, that there is no evidence of collusion between Trump and his team and Russia.
He also said Trump never directly ordered him to cease any probe and that media reports suggesting extensive communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian government were almost entirely false.
However, Comey said he took Trump’s overtures on behalf of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as a directive. He also indicated that he started keeping memos only when Trump was elected to protect himself if there were any future dust-ups.
In his opening statement, Comey slammed Trump for changing his public explanation for firing him, initially indicating that it was about the handling of the Hillary Clinton case before admitting it was about the Russia probe. Comey then called Trump a liar for publicly suggesting that FBI personnel had lost confidence in him.
Between the media hype and the Democratic talking points leading into Thursday, Trump critics were preparing for an event that would be the tipping point toward his legal or political downfall. They didn’t get it.
“If you just look clinically at the legal facts that came out, Trump had a good day as far as the allegations we’ve been looking at over the last six months,” said former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and others for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning to attack other landmarks.
“The testimony undermines the case for obstruction of justice, which I’ve been trying to argue was not strong at all to begin with. There’s still no evidence of collusion, and they acknowledged Trump was not the subject of an investigation,” McCarthy told WND and Radio America.
He said the definitive remarks on collusion may well be the biggest stories of the day.
“Today probably puts to bed the notion that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime,” McCarthy said. “So Comey, who would have had every motivation to suggest such collusion if there had been any, really was very clear on the fact there was no evidence of that.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Andrew C. McCarthy:
McCarthy said the intense politicization of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 elections has distracted officials from focusing on the actual, ongoing threat.
“What I’ve been concerned about is that our consideration of Russia has become so hyper-politicized that a lot people have a motivation to downplay it,” he said. “To me, it’s very serious, so I hope we can put the politics part of that aside and start to focus on the Putin regime, which is a real problem for the United States.”
But while Trump’s legal concerns ought to be greatly eased, McCarthy warned that Comey’s blistering attack on Trump’s character may do lasting damage.
“Even in not formally or informally accusing Trump of committing a crime, Comey paints a very unflattering portrait of the president as somebody who is conniving, dishonest and a real operator in a sense,” McCarthy said.
“I’m not smart enough to know how this is going to play itself out, but I wonder if people will care more about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of criminal wrongdoing or even deeply inappropriate behavior that straddles the line of the law versus how unflattering the portrait of the president painted by Comey is,” he said.
McCarthy notes Hillary Clinton never faced any charges over her private server or for mishandling top-secret classified information, but the revelation of her conduct ended up carrying immense political consequences.
Shortly after Comey finished his public testimony, Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, publicly highlighted what he sees as Comey’s exoneration of Trump while simultaneously disputing Comey’s assertion that Trump demanded a loyalty pledge or asked for the Flynn probe to be dropped.
McCarthy said it makes sense for Kasowitz to point out the testimony that boosts Trump’s legal standing, but he said accusing Comey of not telling the truth in other areas was not smart.
“I wouldn’t be asking for a credibility contest between Trump and Comey,” he said. “Trump has a long, long history of not having at 7 p.m. the position he took at 7 a.m., and he may have changed it two or three times in between. Whereas, Comey has contemporaneous notes and is pretty solid as he moves from event to event to event even when he tells the same story multiple times.
“Trump’s going to lose a credibility contest with Comey, and there’s no reason for his lawyer to get him into one,” McCarthy said.
Another key revelation from Comey centers on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Comey confirmed he went public with his summary on the Clinton case and his recommendation not to prosecute because of Lynch’s clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton on an Arizona tarmac. He also revealed that Lynch pressured him not to publicly describe the Clinton probe as an “investigation” but rather as a “matter.”
Nonetheless, McCarthy said Lynch is not in any legal danger.
“I don’t think she’s in any legal trouble,” he said. “I think Comey’s point, and it was a good one, is that it’s not one side that tries to massage and politicize law enforcement.”