Comey, Sessions, and Trump’s Russian swamp monster
Comey's earlier testimony. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

Twenty million Americans watched former FBI Director James Comey testify before a Senate committee last week. Like the Women’s March, March for Science and other recent mass protests, the unprecedented level of interest in the hearing reflected deep concern millions have regarding attacks on U.S. democracy, and widely-held fear that the Trump administration, abetted by Republican lawmakers, is subverting the U.S. Constitution and rule of law.

Since Comey’s testimony events continue to develop at a rapid pace.

Gallup reported that the president’s approval rating hit a new weekly low after Comey’s compelling June 8 testimony, in which he gave details about actions the president took that could constitute obstruction of investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and collusion with individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Here is a timeline of events leading to Comey’s firing by Trump and the aftermath: http://www.npr.org/2017/05/15/527773206/what-just-happened-the-james-comey-saga-in-timeline-form

Highlights of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee include:

  • He said he kept detailed notes about his one-on-one meetings with Trump because he thought the president “might lie” about them;
  • Trump asked Comey for his loyalty in exchange for keeping his job;
  • Trump dismissed his top aides so he could talk to Comey alone in the Oval Office;
  • It was during that encounter when Trump asked him to drop an investigation into ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, implicated in illegal dealings with Russia.

To read the full transcript, click here.

Comey indicated that Trump was concerned about the Russia investigation as it related to him personally, but not about the actions Russia is believed to have taken to influence the outcome of the elections.

Comey went public with his memos, he said, because he hoped it would lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor. It did, on May 17. Robert Mueller, a highly regarded former FBI director, was put in charge of a criminal investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion with Trump campaign associates.

The special counsel can investigate financial ties Trump, his family and aides might have to the Russian government and other possible connections.

In the wake of Comey’s testimony, the White House has gone on a full court press to thwart the investigation. Trump also claimed last week that he’d be “100 percent” willing to tell Mueller, under oath, that Comey was lying. Now, Trump associates say he is considering firing Mueller.

Trump has called the investigation a “witch-hunt.”

Based on Comey’s sworn statements and Trump’s own admissions, the president appears to be in legal jeopardy with possible obstruction of justice charges.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is ranking chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to her colleague, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chair, urging an investigation into any possible obstruction of justice reflected in Comey’s testimony. She also said Sessions, who also gave testimony to the intelligence panel, should come before the committee as well.

“We need the judiciary committee to step up and carry its weight,” she said.

In the wake of Comey’s testimony, the president’s alt-right, Republican coterie ramped up their attacks on the overall Russia investigation, insisting it be dropped. The Republican National Committee chairwoman, the former House speaker and a bunch of right-wing commentators called for the investigation to be stopped.

The calls for Mueller’s firing come amid new concerns about the extent of Russian hacking with Bloomberg News reporting that voter databases in 39 states may have been affected, and are seen as a way to pressure, control and intimidate the special counsel.

Meanwhile, Sessions’ June 13 testimony before the Senate intelligence panel raised new concerns over his role in Comey’s firing and his ability to do the job of attorney general. Session refused to answer questions concerning conversations he had with the president and claimed he could not “recall” critical details about meetings with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, during 2016 and many other related issues.

Sessions stonewalled the committee refusing to answer questions about his conversations with the president. He tried to justify his defiance with vague and muddled answers around executive privilege and the president’s right to invoke it sometime in the future. To date Trump has not invoked executive privilege to block any testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The president can invoke executive privilege in order to keep certain communications private but not if they are germane to a criminal investigation.

Committee members pressed Sessions to answer or to show a legal basis for not answering. Sessions could not and resorted to obfuscation, filibustering, nasty push back, and in the case of avoiding Sen. Kamala Harris’ clear and pointed questions, “man-terruption,” a term used to describe the widespread practice of men interrupting women. Sessions said she made him “nervous.”

For Harris, a Democrat from California, this was the second time in the last week she was shut down by GOP colleagues during her questioning of committee witnesses. Harris was the state attorney general before being elected U.S. senator last year.

Sessions’ refusal to answer Senate questions came on the heels of similar testimony by two high level Trump officials, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers. They refused to answer Senate Intelligence Committee questions on whether President Trump asked them to undercut the investigation into Russian interference.

In related news, nearly 200 Democrats filed suit today against Trump for “repeatedly and flagrantly” violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. This lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar one filed June 12 by attorneys general of Maryland and of the District of Columbia. The Democrats’ suit is the third such suit since Trump assumed the presidency.

The Department of Justice announced it would defend the president, arguing he is allowed to make money from foreign governments.


CONTRIBUTOR

Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano is a staff writer for People's World and an award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Chicago, Albano is a member of the Chicago News Guild-Communications Workers of America and has been covering political, labor and social justice issues for more than 25 years. Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People's World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW's social media presence.

Albano lived in New York City for 13 years and has traveled throughout the United States and abroad, including to India, Cuba, Angola, Italy and to Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. She received awards from International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women and Illinois Woman Press Association, including its prestigious Silver Feather Award. Albano attends Northeastern Illinois University and recently received NEIU's Future Alumni Leader award. She will graduate in December 2016. 

Combining her passion for swimming and for social justice, she founded the blog, Swimming Social, during the 2016 Rio Games. 

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