A very open and candid discussion

The hearing.

I missed the first hour, and turned it off while Cornyn was questioning because I was getting restless. The hour+ I did see was interesting.

Comey sat grim-faced at a witness table before the Senate Intelligence Committee shortly after 10 a.m. as the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), began the hearing by calling for a “very open and candid discussion’’ about the “strained relationship’’ between the president and Comey. Comey’s written account of those discussions, made public on Wednesday, have fueled the debate over whether the president may have attempted to obstruct justice by pressuring the FBI director about a sensitive investigation.

Comey began his testimony by saying he became “confused and increasingly concerned’’ about the public explanations by White House officials for his firing on May 9, particularly after the president said he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire him.

He wasted little time repudiating White House statements that he was fired in part because of low morale among FBI employees, and those employees’ supposedly soured attitude toward his leadership.

“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led,’’ Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.’’

It’s interesting that Trump and his people feel justified in doing that. Usually Republicans are pretty loyal to the FBI.

In connection with that, it’s interesting how Comey explained his thinking when he briefed Trump about the “salacious” dossier: he was thinking of the Hoover FBI and he wanted to assure Trump that he wasn’t doing a Hoover: telling him about this scuzzy material as a not very subtle kind of blackmail. He wanted to make it very clear that he wasn’t doing that, hence volunteering the information that they weren’t investigating him personally.

After his January dinner when the two discussed loyalty, Comey and the president had another discussion in February at the White House. A number of senior officials met in the Oval Office on Feb. 14 to discuss terrorism. At the end of the meeting, according to Comey, the president asked everyone to leave but Comey.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions lingered behind until the president told him, too, to leave, Comey said.

“My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving which is why he was lingering,’’ said Comey. “I knew something was about to happen which I should pay very close attention to.’’

Later someone asked him – I think it was Kamala Harris, another former prosecutor and AG – a question I’d wanted to ask: what happened when he implored Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump ever again and Sessions didn’t reply. Comey said he wasn’t sure he remembered accurately but he thought there was some kind of body language or expression conveying “what can I do?” Harris said “A shrug?” and Comey acted out a little eyeroll head twitch version of a shrug, while still underlining how uncertain he was about the memory. He mentioned that uncertainty repeatedly throughout the questioning. It’s reassuring when people are aware of the fallibility of their own memories, especially people in law enforcement.

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