award-winning British journalist and broadcaster at Al Jazeera English. He is host of the Al Jazeera interview program UpFront and a columnist for The Intercept.
senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties at the website EmptyWheel.net.
Fired FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday that President Trump tried to derail an investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s links to Russia, and accused Trump of lying about why he was fired. Comey testified that he documented every meeting he had with Trump because he thought the president might lie about what had taken place, and said he leaked the meeting details to the media in order to spur the appointment of a special counsel. “From a political point of view, we know that one of the biggest flaws in Donald Trump’s presidency, his candidacy, his ability to be president, is that he’s a serial fabricator,” says Mehdi Hasan. “Now you have the former top law enforcement officer of this country going in front of the Senate, under oath, saying those are lies, plain and simple.” Hasan is an award-winning British journalist and broadcaster at Al Jazeera English and columnist for The Intercept. He joins a roundtable discussion with Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties at her website EmptyWheel.net.
AMY GOODMAN: Fired FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday President Trump tried to derail an investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s links to Russia, and accused Trump of lying about why he was fired.
JAMES COMEY: So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation, and learned again, from the media, that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation. I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn’t make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn’t make any sense to me. And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, 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, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
AMY GOODMAN: The fired FBI director, James Comey, testified he documented every meeting he had with Trump because he thought the president might lie about what had taken place. He said he leaked details of the meetings to the press with the hope of spurring the appointment of a special counsel. During an exchange with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, Comey explained why he decided to make a written record of his January 6 meeting with President-elect Trump.
JAMES COMEY: I was alone with the president of the United States, or the president-elect, soon to be president. The subject matter, I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the president—president-elect personally, and then the nature of the person. I mean, I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document. That combination of things, I had never experienced before, but it led me to believe I’ve got to write it down, and I’ve got to write it down in a very detailed way.
SEN. MARK WARNER: I think that’s a very important statement you just made. And my understanding is that, then, again, unlike your dealings with presidents of either parties in your past experience, in every subsequent meeting or conversation with this president, you created a written record. Did you feel that you needed to create this written record of these memos because they might need to be relied on at some future date?
JAMES COMEY: Sure. I created records after conversations, and I think I did it after each of our nine conversations. If I didn’t, I did it for nearly all of them, especially the ones that were substantive. I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function. That’s what made this so—so difficult, is it was a combination of circumstances, subject matter and the particular person.
SEN. MARK WARNER: And so, in all your experience, this was the only president that you felt like, in every meeting, you needed to document, because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting. Now—
JAMES COMEY: That’s right, Senator. And I—as I said in my written testimony, as FBI director, I interacted with President Obama, and I spoke only twice in three years and didn’t document it. When I was deputy attorney general, I had one one-on-one meeting with President Bush about a very important and difficult national security matter. I didn’t write a memo documenting that conversation either, sent a quick email to my staff to let them know there was something going on. But I didn’t feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way, again, because the combination of those factors just wasn’t present with either with President Bush or President Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jim Comey being questioned by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not President Trump taped conversations with then-FBI Director Comey was raised several times during the course of the hearing.
JAMES COMEY: I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I remember saying, “I agree he’s a good guy,” as a way of saying, “I’m not agreeing with what you just asked me to do.”
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by three guests. Shayana Kadidal is with us here in New York, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, we’re joined by Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net. And in Washington, D.C., Mehdi Hasan is still with us, award-winning British journalist, broadcaster at Al Jazeera English, host of the program UpFront, columnist for The Intercept, author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader and The Debt Delusion: Exposing Ten Tory Myths About Debts, Deficits and Spending Cuts.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Marcy, we spoke to you at the end of the show yesterday when James Comey was about to speak. You had read already the statement that he had put out the day before. But what did you find most significant in yesterday’s explosive many-hours hearings?
MARCY WHEELER: Well, importantly, he used the word “lie” over and over again. That’s not done in Washington, D.C. And even in the subsequent day, a lot of the press is not emphasizing that as much as they should, with the exception of you, obviously. But, you know—and President Trump is already on Twitter this morning, you know, counter-accusing Comey of lying and leaking. And I think it’s really important to stick to that word, that the reason Comey did what he did—and he used that contradistinction. You know, he came out of that meeting—you played it. The reference to this national security program with Bush was Stellar Wind, an illegal wiretapping program. He did not document that meeting. But he documented every single meeting with President Trump because he believed Trump might lie. And that’s a really important point.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Mehdi Hasan, your take on watching the hours yesterday of James Comey? What surprised you most? What did you think was most significant?
MEHDI HASAN: Well, apart from the fact that he regrets giving up a dinner date with his wife to go to dinner with Donald Trump, which I think was a huge mistake on his part—no, I agree with Marcy that the lying part is, without doubt, the most significant part of that testimony. I mean, we can talk about the legal side of things, obstruction of justice, is it obstruction or not. From a political point of view, we know that one of the biggest flaws in Donald Trump’s presidency, his candidacy, his ability to be president, is that he’s a serial fabricator. Now you have the former top law enforcement officer of this country going in front of the Senate, under oath, saying he—that, you know, “Those are lies, plain and simple,” he said, referring to Trump’s description of his firing. He said, “I was worried he would lie.” He says, “I was worried about the nature of the man.” I mean, this is pretty damning stuff from a lifelong Republican and an FBI director.
And there was a quite funny tweet that went viral last night, which said, you know, “Trump is saying he’s a liar. Comey is saying Trump’s a liar. Well, who do you believe? Do you believe an FBI director who served under two—who served under three presidents from two parties? Or do you believe the guy who said Obama was born in Kenya?” And, you know, that’s what faces us today.
And Marcy is right to say that we should be talking much more about that, because you can’t just say this is a partisan thing. This is quite important that James Comey goes to visit President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, and within minutes of his first meeting with Donald Trump, he thinks, “I have to write stuff down, because this guy is a liar.” And remember, Comey worked for George W. Bush, who lied us into the Iraq War, who told a fair few porky pies, and even Bush didn’t make him want to write things down. But Trump did.
AMY GOODMAN: In a tweet early this morning, President Trump broke more than two days of Twitter silence, tweeting, “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” I want to go to Shayana Kadidal. What you thought was the most significant revelations yesterday? And just this tweet showing—I mean, you have one track: If you watch Fox through the night, it’s all about Comey admitting he’s a leaker. And if you watch CNN and MSNBC, it’s all about Comey calling President Trump a liar repeatedly.
SHAYANA KADIDAL: Mm-hmm, yeah. I think the high points for me in the hearing were the beginning and the end—at the beginning, where, you know, we may be numb to this, but the FBI director, former FBI director, saying that the president lied and defamed him, but at the end, a little bit more quietly saying that he essentially believes it was obstruction of justice. He said he thought the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being handled.
In between, we saw, you know, a very detail-oriented and kind of compelling factual witness, but a witness not so much to what was said about Flynn, although it’s clear that the president and him continue to disagree about what was said, but the circumstances under which these things were said to him, with everybody, you know, ushered out of the room. You know, that plus the very fact that Comey was fired, to me, seemed to be the strongest indicators that obstruction of justice might be happening here. But it’s still amazing to hear him say that.
AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly does obstruction of justice mean?
SHAYANA KADIDAL: Well, the legal definition in the statute is basically—you know, it’s the crime committed by whoever corruptly or by threats influences, obstructs or impedes efforts to properly administer the law. You know, it’s important to remember, it doesn’t require that Trump have committed some crime that he is hiding. Trump could be trying to impede the application of the criminal law to any one of his so-called satellite subordinates—right?—any of the little people under him, because he’s worried that if they get indicted, maybe they’ll flip and start telling more damaging information about his campaign’s relationship to the Russians. Obstruction of justice on the part of the president could be happening even if the president himself didn’t commit any crime.
And, you know, for me, if you asked me on May 8th whether or not there was any fire underneath the smoke of the Russia investigation, I would have said no. But after he fired Comey, I—you know, factually, I think my feeling about it is completely changed. And that certainly was something I think that was just re-emphasized yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that, why it completely changed after the firing.
SHAYANA KADIDAL: It just seems extraordinarily foolish to fire this FBI director, if there weren’t something out there for him to find.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, come back to this discussion. Shayana Kadidal is with Center for Constitutional Rights; Marcy Wheeler, EmptyWheel.net; and Mehdi Hasan with Al Jazeera English. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.