Decoding James Comey Preparing to Testify on Trump-Russia Investigation

Comey Testiy Getty

(Getty)

Former FBI director James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Every major news site will take some sound bite from tomorrow and turn it into a blaring headline. The Decoder will help you determine whether the testimony on the Russia investigation is worth all the attention it is receiving.

 

What Happened:

Former FBI director James Comey is set to face the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow and deliver testimony to answer questions about possible collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. As far as politics goes, this is billed as must-see-TV and will be aired live on major networks. Or if you are in DC, many bars will be hosting watch parties, if that’s the kind of way you prefer to spend a Thursday morning. And because of this broad attention, prepare for senators engaging in long-winded stump speeches posed as questions.

This afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee released Comey’s prepared opening statement. The statement provides details of Comey’s meetings with President Trump. Depending on which news sites you visit, you can see headlines covering this released statement as indicative of which direction the narrative will head into tomorrow.

Note that Comey has in all probability met with FBI officials to go over what he can or can not discuss. Therefore, it is not likely (but not impossible!) Comey will reveal information that alters the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation.

For those who need a quick catch-up on all that has happened with Comey and Trump, check out this straightforward New York Times rundown.

 

The Coverage:

Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia is yet another issue that has deeply divided the country. The possibility of a presidential campaign coordinating with a foreign adversary to sway America’s democracy, multiple investigations into the Trump campaign, the defensiveness by Trump in response to the allegations, and the deeply divided public on whether this is a legitimate issue or not, all combine to make this a major event in politics. There are consequences if Trump associates did collude and there are consequences if he did not.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans are divided on whether Trump tried to interfere with investigations into Russia’s involvement in last year’s election.

WaPo Trump poll

Opinions break down along party lines. The media is providing vastly different portrayals of the same set of facts.

Let’s see how news responded to today’s statement. Keep in mind each organization read the same seven pages. Here’s another link to it.

CNN: COMEY’S BOMBSHELL: The thrust of the CNN coverage is confirmation that Trump asked Comey to let the investigation in to Michael Flynn go. The article contains quotes from the encounter. CNN also notes that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation. However, Comey would not make that a public statement because investigations are ongoing and Trump could become a target of the investigation as findings developed. That’s a nice segue into Fox News…

Fox News: COMEY CLEARS THE AIR: The sub-headline is Ex-FBI Boss to say Trump demanded ‘loyalty’; was not under investigation. The lede here is Trump asked for loyalty, he wanted to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation, and that Comey told Trump he was not under investigation.

Fox News has been supportive of Trump throughout the investigation. So Fox News viewers may see that Trump asked for loyalty and find that request completely acceptable. After all, what President doesn’t want loyalty from high-ranked government officials? CNN and other news sources may reveal that Trump asked for loyalty, but the intonation is very different. CNN viewers may read it as Trump asking an ultimatum: either give me loyalty by dropping the investigation or else. We’ll return to this with the Washington Post coverage.

The other takeaway is that Fox adopts Trump’s language in referring to the investigation as a “cloud.” Clouds can be a nuisance on a sunny day. They certainly don’t have the gravitas of threatening democratic foundations.

Lastly, Fox does not make the distinction that investigations are prone to growing as new information comes to light, hence the reason that just because Trump was not under investigation in January, does not mean he would not be at a later date.

 

Washington Post: Trump to Comey ‘I expect loyalty,’ according to former FBI Chief’s prepared testimony. The Washington Post has been leading the pack in breaking news on the Russia-Trump developments. Today they are the one organization abstaining from a blaring headline. They start with an extended lede taken from Comey’s memos that recounts a private dinner with Trump. In this scenario, the request for loyalty is more ominous. The Post includes Comey’s takeaway from the request, “the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job, and create some sort of patronage relationship.” The rest of the story deals with Comey’s unease in his relationship with Trump.

 

Also, both Fox News and Washington Post have articles about Trump planning to defend himself from Comey’s testimony. This is a pretty strong indication that Trump does not expect a positive effect from Comey’s appearance in the Senate.

 

 

Decoding:

Depending on your politics, this issue may have you questioning the legitimacy of any of the following: Trump’s presidency, Trump’s actions as president, Democrats raising concerns about Russia’s interference, the nation’s intelligence agencies, the media. There are a lot of forces opposed to each other. For that reason, we are going to look at one big question for today.

 

1. What are some of the consequences of these investigations? Based on the Washington Post-ABC poll above, political affiliation has a lot to do with whether you see this as a major issue or a non-issue. In a time where politics is becoming increasingly polarized, how do you feel about the appointment of a special counsel investigating the White House?

If this is a non-issue, then this is a very dangerous new tool being utilized by political opponents. (Let’s set aside the fact that Democrats did not create the special counsel; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did after Trump fired Comey).

If this is a major issue, what can result from Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the nation’s intelligence agencies? Seventeen of them said Russia interfered, and yet Trump does not believe it is a serious issue that a chief adversary impacted the foundation of our democracy. Moreover, most Republicans have been silent instead of confronting this issue. Is this an indication that the US will not respond to foreign threats if one party sees political gain?

 

 

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