“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” sacked FBI director James Comey said at one point in his live televised appearance before the US Senate Intelligence Committee today.
He added at another point, "Release all the tapes — I’m good with it.”
Mr Comey was referring to a May 13 tweet by Donald Trump about their January 27 dinner at the White House (‘James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!’).
If there were tapes, it would certainly help to clear things up.*
As things stand, it’s a case of he said/she said.
Mr Comey has implied the president obstructed justice by implying he could keep his job if he remained “loyal,” and strongly implying that investigations into fired national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump campaign Russia ties be dropped.
Mr Trump – uncharacteristically silent on social media over the past 24 hours – has denied the allegations through a statement issued by his lawyer, and in earlier comments to media.
The pair were alone during the conversations. So absent a White House recording, the Senate committee (and the House committee and special counsel investigation to follow of the next few months) will have to rely on each man’s personal account (special counsel Robert Meuller will investigate more widely). In Mr Comey’s case, he says he took notes immediately after each meeting.
In his live testimony, Mr Comey repeated the assertions from his written testimony released by the White House yesterday.
There were also three developments.
Mr Comey admitted the obvious – that he had leaked elements of what became his testimony to media, allowing a friend to read portions of it to the New York Times. The former FBI head said he did so in the hope it would spur the appointment of a special counsel, as indeed happened.
There was sharper language from Mr Comey, who said it was “Lies, plain and simple” when presented with Trump White House comments that the FBI was in disarray under his leadership and that he had lost the support of agents.
Mr Comey said Mr Trump defamed him when (according to official White House notes), he called the former FBI director a “nutjob” during a May 10 Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. The allegation sets the stage for a possible civil action.
While Mr Trump's Twitter account was mute, Donald Trump Jr's was unusually active, retweeting commentary unfavourable to Mr Comey. The president's son also added his own take, posting "I'm pretty sure that Comey's testimony put his own 'character' on trial. Leaks, admitted weakness. Come on now."
* Late in the day, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway refused to say if any recording existed of the conversation, or not.
Read the full version of the statement from President Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz here.
See a full transcript of Comey's live testimony here.
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