Comey com­ments may be de­signed to as­sail cred­i­bil­ity

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY ERIC TUCKER As­so­ci­ated Press

Wash­ing­ton — The Repub­li­can at­tacks that ac­com­pa­nied the fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey have sharply in­ten­si­fied in the last two weeks, with broad­sides de­liv­ered on Twit­ter, pub­lic state­ments and even from the White House podium.

Comey, who in June said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the White House had lied about him and the law en­force­ment agency he led, has been re­peat­edly ac­cused of de­liv­er­ing false tes­ti­mony, of pre­ma­turely ex­on­er­at­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton for her use of a pri­vate email server and of im­prop­erly leak­ing de­tails about his pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent.

The at­tacks, which come as Congress and fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors probe the cir­cum­stances of his dis­missal, ap­pear clearly de­signed to un­der­cut the cred­i­bil­ity of a vet­eran law­man whose tes­ti­mony and vivid first-per­son ac­counts loom as cen­tral to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Though Trump’s lawyers over the sum­mer had been mulling ways to un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the stepped-up salvos sug­gest White House of­fi­cials and Trump’s le­gal team see Comey — who, de­spite en­joy­ing broad sup­port from within the FBI, also re­ceived bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism for his han­dling of the Clin­ton probe — as a more vul­ner­a­ble tar­get for at­tack.

Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s lawyers, told the As­so­ci­ated Press this week that he did not con­sider Comey to be a “cred­i­ble wit­ness” and that there were mul­ti­ple rea­sons for Comey’s fir­ing.

“I’m not look­ing at this as a le­gal strat­egy. I’m just dis­cussing facts. Read Hil­lary Clin­ton’s book,” said Seku­low, re­fer­ring to the newly re­leased post-mortem of last year’s elec­tion that harshly crit­i­cizes Comey’s over­sight of the email in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But there’s also no ques­tion that at­tempts to sully Comey’s rep­u­ta­tion, and to char­ac­ter­ize him as a rogue and in­ef­fec­tive leader, are also aimed at un­der­cut­ting any po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice al­le­ga­tions aris­ing from the May 9 fir­ing and at plant­ing the idea that the dis­missal was the cul­mi­na­tion of le­git­i­mate per­for­mance con­cerns — not an ef­fort to rail­road the Rus­sia probe.

“I think there’s a recog­ni­tion that if there were to be an ob­struc­tion case, the cred­i­bil­ity of Jim Comey will be a cen­tral is­sue — no dif­fer­ent than the cred­i­bil­ity of a cen­tral, crit­i­cal wit­ness to any other case,” said Jacob Frenkel, a Wash­ing­ton de­fense lawyer who has fol­lowed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The best time to cast doubt on a wit­ness’ rep­u­ta­tion or re­li­a­bil­ity,” he added, “is be­fore any case ac­tu­ally hits the court­room or Congress in a charg­ing doc­u­ment.”

The at­tacks on Comey’s per­for­mance aren’t sur­pris­ing given the White House’s la­bored, and evolv­ing, ef­forts to ex­plain the fir­ing.

Of­fi­cials ini­tially said Trump was act­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his Jus­tice Depart­ment, which pro­duced a scathing as­sess­ment of his han­dling of the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But that ex­pla­na­tion un­rav­eled days later when Trump said he would have fired Comey re­gard­less of rec­om­men­da­tion, and was fur­ther weak­ened by the rev­e­la­tion that Trump and an aide had ear­lier drafted, but not sent, a let­ter meant to ra­tio­nal­ize the planned dis­missal. That draft memo is in Mueller’s pos­ses­sion.

The crit­i­cism of Comey be­gan im­me­di­ately af­ter his fir­ing, when White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders claimed to have heard from un­sat­is­fied FBI agents about low morale at the bureau.

But it has es­ca­lated in the last two weeks. Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, re­leased seg­ments of in­ter­views with FBI of­fi­cials that show Comey had be­gun con­tem­plat­ing how to close the Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out charges months be­fore Clin­ton and other key aides had been in­ter­viewed by agents.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Trump tweeted, “Wow, looks like James Comey ex­on­er­ated Hil­lary Clin­ton long be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was over…and so much more. A rigged sys­tem!”

This week, San­ders said she thought Comey should be in­ves­ti­gated by the Jus­tice Depart­ment for dis­clos­ing to the me­dia memos sum­ma­riz­ing his con­ver­sa­tions with Trump.

“James Comey’s leak­ing of in­for­ma­tion, mak­ing ques­tion­able state­ments un­der oath, politi­ciz­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion—those are real rea­sons for why he was fired,” San­ders said.

Yet no memos were re­leased by Comey. In­stead, a friend of Comey de­scribed ex­cerpts from the notes to re­porters and has said none of the ma­te­rial was marked clas­si­fied. Comey has stead­fastly main­tained that pol­i­tics do not enter into the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions.


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