Sunday Political Brunch: How Critical is Comey?—June 11 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017


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Mark Curtis

Like many people, I was fascinated this week with the testimony from former FBI Director James Comey. It gave some clarity about Russian meddling in our election, yet it needs to provide more clarity about Comey’s interactions with President Trump. I had a chance to interview one of the Senators from the Intelligence Committee after the fact, and found his perspective interesting. Let’s “brunch” on that and on other aspects of Comey's appearance this week:

“From Russia with Interference” – Despite a lot of teeth-gnashing in the electorate over the past six months about whether there was interference from Russia during the election, Comey put that question to rest. “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government,” Comey said.

“Manchin Reaction” – Friday I interviewed Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Before he was ever Senator or Governor of West Virginia, Manchin served as Secretary of State, which is the chief elections officer in West Virginia. He knows a lot about running elections. "Well, first of all, I hope the American public walked away understanding how important this investigation is of the Russians; how determined the Russians have been in changing our way of life; how dogmatic they were, getting involved, trying to be involved in our process; to basically destroy the confidence level, we have in our democracy," Manchin said. Yes, this investigation is about what Trump and Comey said to each other, but it is much larger than that.

“Manchin on Meddling” – Senator Manchin is not a lawyer, but he does know something about being a political chief executive, especially in terms of what you can and can’t do. Assuming Comey is being truthful in saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation into fired National Security Advisor Michel Flynn, Manchin believes President Trump may have crossed an ethical line, but maybe not a legal line. "It's very concerning that anybody [Trump] at that level, whether when I [Manchin] was Governor, or as the President, that you're intervening with law enforcement, your investigations. That's something we were told never to do, and not be involved. Let the professionals do their job,” Manchin said.

“To Impeach; or, Not Impeach” – Last week, when I asked people whether Trump should be impeached, I received thousands of responses both for and against. But, this investigation is in its very early stages, and talk of removing the President may be premature. Senator Manchin said, "Anybody saying 'impeachment,' or using 'obstruction of justice' right now, let's just get the facts. Let's get the intelligence community to give us the facts. Let the facts take you to where the truth is. I think they're way ahead of their skis on that.”

“140 Characters or Less” – If the TV broadcast of the Comey testimony was the “air war,” then the social media response is the “ground war.” On Friday, President Trump tweeted, "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" You can look all over Twitter and Facebook to find millions of opinions for and against the President. It’s a pitched battle to sway public opinion. To those who have called on President Trump to stop tweeting (including me), he’s not going to. It’s the new normal.

“Outside Forces” – During the impeachment of President Clinton, we nearly went to war with Iraq. By coincidence, there was a movie at the time about a President who tries to knock a personal scandal off the front pages by going to war. It was called “Wag the Dog!” A lot of people scoffed that the Clinton White House was life imitating art. It was an amusing analogy, but international incidents should not be treated so lightly. Given the terrorism in Europe and the missile launches from North Korea, you know Trump will be accused of creating a distraction if he retaliates. But those threats are very real, and how the President responds is critical, even if the public takes a cynical view.

“Tale of the Tape” – Were conversations between President Trump and then-FBI Director Comey recorded? During Watergate, the Oval Office tape recorder became the smoking gun. The House Intelligence Committee has now set June 23 as a deadline for the White House to produce any audio recordings, if they even exist.

“Why All of This Matters” – As we witnessed during the Nixon and Clinton scandals, Washington, D.C., came to a grinding halt, and nothing significant got done. While I believe these current investigations need to move forward in a bipartisan manner, they should not turn into a wild goose chase that paralyzes the country.

What are your takeaways from the Comey testimony and the President’s response? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally known political reporter, analyst, and author based in West Virginia.


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