Committee carousel: Comey skates by tough questions
Fired FBI Director James B. Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week to much fanfare, bearing enough revelations for both sides to walk away claiming victory. But as the dust settles, longtime Senate watchers are starting to wonder if Mr. Comey’s testimony wasn’t just a show trial that is part of a larger cover-up aimed at destroying Donald Trump’s presidency.
For example, why was Mr. Comey allowed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has no oversight jurisdiction over the Department of Justice or the FBI? The decision served only to validate and focus all the attention on the phantom probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
If the Senate really was interested in exploring all the stated reasons for Mr. Comey’s firing, from the Russia probe to the inexplicable manner in which Mr. Comey handled Hillary Clinton’s illegal email server, why not haul Mr. Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that actually does have jurisdiction over the Justice Department and the FBI?
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, is legendary for his no-nonsense, nonpartisan and meticulous oversight of the federal government agencies and departments. Mr. Grassley is now accusing his own party leadership of erecting a “stone wall” to protect Mr. Comey from his committee. It is a sentiment shared even by Democrats. “At some point, the leadership in both the majority and the minority have to say [we] must have some role in asserting the jurisdiction of this committee,” fumed Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, who sits on the committee. “It seems to me that all, nearly like 90 percent of these issues, should be under our committee.”
Equally curious was the Intelligence Committee’s decision to hold a hearing on the day before Mr. Comey testified featuring four top U.S. intelligence officials. That hearing was supposed to be all about renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Instead, Democrats and Republicans alike spent the entire charade fanning the wild conspiracy flames that somehow Mr. Trump collaborated with the Kremlin to tilt last year’s election. It made for the perfect appetizer for the next day’s main course.
So, why would Mr. Comey be afraid of appearing before the committee that has actual oversight of the FBI and Department of Justice? Here are some of the questions he wasn’t asked by the Intelligence Committee and that he might not have wanted to answer:
Mr. Comey said he leaked his confidential notes of meetings with Mr. Trump to The New York Times because he wanted to get a special prosecutor appointed. Was this just to get revenge against the president for firing him? Or was Mr. Comey using back channels inside the FBI to manipulate the system into appointing a special prosecutor?
If so, that would be a pretty stunning revelation.
Also, Mr. Comey said he spoke privately with various colleagues and at least one person outside the FBI about his predicament. Mr. Comey should be required to name every single person with whom he confided about the situation both before and after he was fired.
Answers to these questions would reveal just how widespread Mr. Comey’s leaking operation went and possibly shed more light on whether Mr. Comey violated the president’s executive privilege when he leaked his private Oval Office conversations.
Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been friends a long time in the swamp. What communications did the two men have about any of this before and after Mr. Comey was fired? Did Mr. Comey coordinate in any way with Mr. Mueller to get him appointed special counsel?
For that matter, perhaps the Senate Judiciary Committee should haul Mr. Mueller before the committee to answer some of the same questions.
Nobody said draining the swamp would be easy.