- - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America will be all ears when James Comey opens up Thursday about his conversations with President Trump and allegations that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. Whatever he says, the Never-Trumpers will nod that their worst suspicions have been confirmed, that the commander in chief is a Manchurian candidate with a thing for Russia. Perhaps Mr. Comey will persuade everyone that there is, after all, a “there” there. So far there’s no fire, no smoke, only a vapor produced by heavy breathing.

Whether by clever manipulation of factoids — something that looks like facts, might be facts but in fact are not facts — or by dumb fortune, Mr. Comey has remained at the center of a yearlong ruckus that followed Mr. Trump’s unlikely victory over Hillary Clinton, an authentic fact that the Democrats just can’t get over. The former FBI director has skillfully fed the controversy growing out of the accusation that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn colluded with the Russians to cook the election results. Mr. Comey’s version, offered well after the fact, of a St. Valentine’s Day conversation with the president portrays the president as having attempted to derail that investigation.

Following that meeting, Mr. Comey wrote himself a memo in which he quoted the president telling him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” The Democrats assume Mr. Comey’s version of the president’s remark is accurate, and take it as proof that the president thus tried to intimidate Mr. Comey into dropping the investigation, and compounded it when he sacked Mr. Comey. The investigation has continued, and is now in the hands of Robert Mueller, the independent counsel appointed by the president’s administration.

‘Tis a puzzlement. The distinction between pressure and obstruction is subjective. Pressure is what Washington is all about, exerted from every direction. Obstruction of justice is calculated, nefarious and a crime, and it doesn’t happen every day. The simplest gauge of whether Mr. Comey interpreted Mr. Trump’s words as an actual attempt to obstruct and subvert justice may be the fact that he, as the nation’s top criminal investigator, did nothing about it except tell it to his diary some weeks later.

If Mr. Trump is guilty of a sin of commission, Mr. Comey is guilty of omission. The president could have used executive privilege to bar Mr. Comey from testifying about the conversation, but decided to let him have his say. Mr. Comey has done himself no favor leaking his “dear diary” recollections, revealing himself as either a well-meaning Inspector Clouseau trying artlessly to defend the republic, or a special pleader in search of Klieg lights and the television cameras. Mr. Comey has confirmed the impression of many on the left and the right that the president did the inevitable thing in firing him.

Washington is even more agog than usual, waiting for the bombshells and blockbusters to shake the ground and light up the sky. Several capital saloons have invited customers to spend their happy hours at the bar, there to celebrate or console with appropriate potions as the afternoon wears on.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee spread appetizers Monday, taking testimony from the director of the National Security Agency and the Director of National Intelligence about whether they had been intimidated or otherwise leaned on to tailor their investigations to the needs of the White House.

“In the three-plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency,” testified Adm. Mike Rogers of the NSA, “to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so. Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, testified that “in my time of service, [in] interacting with the president of the United States or anybody in his administration, I have never been pressured. I’ve never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship with the ongoing investigation.”

So let the games begin.

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