Despite the best efforts of Congressman Goodlatte and other House Republican leaders to suggest otherwise, the release of former FBI director James Comey’s memos of his conversations with President Trump does not come close to exonerating the president of obstructing justice or other misdeeds.
House Judiciary Committee chair Goodlatte, along with House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes and House Oversight Committee chair Trey Gowdy had pressed for the release of the memos in an effort to discredit Comey and support Trump. The memos, however, do neither. According to a joint statement from the three congressmen:
Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier.
The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation.
But as Greg Sargent writes at The Washington Post:
Comey’s failure to spell out explicitly that he “felt obstructed” has no bearing on the question of whether Trump actually did obstruct justice. “Comey’s feelings about this are not relevant,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me this morning. “What matters, politically at least as much as legally, is Trump’s intent in doing what he did.”
For another, the obstruction question also turns on what happened after all of this, which is that Trump fired Comey. These memos, if anything, confirm more credibly than before what Trump’s frame of mind was in leading up to that firing — that is, the level of acquiescence that Trump wanted but did not get from Comey before firing him. These memos go further than before in supplying Trump’s likely motive for the firing.
Importantly, the Republican response shows not a scintilla of concern about the Trump conduct that was actually documented by Comey — zero concern about Trump’s demand for his FBI director’s loyalty or his effort to influence the probe. We don’t know what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will determine about Trump’s intent or about whether he obstructed justice. But what we do know is that these senior Republicans are not even slightly troubled by the misconduct that Comey has already documented, quite credibly.
And according to a Post editorial:
For his part, the president has said that Mr. Comey is a liar but also that Mr. Comey’s memos exonerate him. The claim is as credible as it is logical.
So the question arises: What were Goodlatte, Nunes and Gowdy trying to prove? Whatever it was, it appears they failed embarrassingly.