An explosive Senate Intelligence hearing with former FBI Director James Comey yesterday has changed the landscape of the “cloud” of the Trump-Russia investigation currently hovering over the White House. While Donald Trump was the subject of much of James Comey’s testimony yesterday, two key figures have emerged as being fingered in the Trump-Russia investigation. The two names that came up yesterday relative to testimony on credibility matters were Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Reuters reports that former FBI Director James Comey testified under oath some startling revelations that are leading many to use the words “obstruction of justice” relative to the Donald Trump Administration. While the president may have some explaining to do in the coming months of the Trump-Russia investigation, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions now have their own credibility under fire after James Comey’s testimony.
In terms of Vice President Mike Pence, James Comey testified that he was sure the vice president knew about former NSA advisor Mike Flynn’s questionable connections with Russia and Turkey lobbying before it became public knowledge. This directly contradicts what Mike Pence has said publicly about the matter.
James Comey also testified that Donald Trump cleared the Oval Office for a private conversation with Comey in which Trump expressed “hope” that Comey would end the investigation into Michael Flynn, noting Flynn was a “good guy.”
It is that moment in the Oval Office that is leading many to use the words “obstruction of justice” relative to Donald Trump. They directed very pointed questions at James Comey about both Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
James Comey’s revelations on those key figures were potentially damaging to their credibility. First, prior to yesterday, Mike Pence has said on record — but not under oath — that he didn’t know anything about Mike Flynn and his potential legal troubles before Mike Flynn was fired.
James Comey vigorously disputed this yesterday. Jeff Sessions is also under fire for a possible third meeting he may have had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself in March from the Trump-Russia investigation after being accused of perjuring himself during his confirmation hearings about Sergey Kislyak. Yesterday, it became known that there may be even more meetings between Jeff Sessions and Sergey Kislyak than originally believed. If that is true, that would mean that Jeff Sessions has repeatedly misled the American people about exchanges or meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
When it comes to Mike Pence, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon asked James Comey yesterday if the head of the Trump transition team, Mike Pence, was aware of concerns of Mike Flynn relative to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
In March, Mike Pence said, “This is the first I have heard of this.”
Yesterday, James Comey testified that it was his “understanding” that Mike Pence was aware.
“My understanding is that he was. I’m trying to remember where I get that understanding from. I think from acting Attorney General Sally Yates.”
It was January 26 when Sally Yates informed the White House counsel Dan McGahn that she believed that Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Mike Pence was in the White House that day, according to his Twitter timeline.
It was the next day on January 27 when James Comey had dinner with Donald Trump at the White House; Sally Yates was fired three days later, and Mike Flynn resigned on February 13.
James Comey testified that his memory recalls it was Sally Yates that gave him the “understanding” that Mike Pence knew Mike Flynn could be compromised by Russia.
The record also confirms James Comey’s understanding. On November 18, a letter was sent by House Oversight to Mike Pence as the head of the transition team, outlining problems with Mike Flynn.
Mike Pence ignored that letter and those “grave concerns” and hired Michael Flynn anyway. Pence has since told the Oversight Committee he does not recall reading the letter and that an aide may have read that letter.
The Oversight Committee’s response to that statement was to publicly tweet an email from the transition team acknowledging receipt of the November 18 letter. The letter said they looked forward to working together on the issue in the coming days.
James Comey testified yesterday that he does not believe Mike Pence first learned of Mike Flynn’s assertions in March of 2017. This has thrown Pence’s credibility under fire as a result. Scott Dworkin of the Democratic Coalition recently said on MSNBC that there’s no way Mike Pence didn’t know.
“It’s nonsense to think Trump and Pence aren’t close with their NSA. There’s no way Mike Pence didn’t know. He is too hands on of a guy, he was leading the transition team himself, and I think that Trump put him in a position where he was set up so that he could take the fall now….I think that’s what is going to come out, that Pence is going to be thrown under the bus big time by Trump.”
Mike Pence will have some explaining to do as the hearings and investigations progress. Jeff Sessions will have his share of explaining to do as well, as many senators yesterday were very interested in Comey’s knowledge of his involvement in the Trump-Russia scandal.
Newsweek reports that it was one day after the Flynn resignation when the private conversation between James Comey and Donald Trump occurred. Michael Flynn resigned on February 13, and James Comey was in a meeting at the Oval Office with other members of the intelligence community on February 14.
It was on this day that Donald Trump allegedly cleared the room for a private conversation to James Comey, where Comey asserts that Trump said he had hoped Comey could see a clear path to let the Michael Flynn investigation go. Initially, Jeff Sessions was in the room for that same meeting but was also cleared from the room before that conversation, as was Jared Kushner.
James Comey testified yesterday that he did not report that conversation to Jeff Sessions after the fact because he was certain that Jeff Sessions would ultimately recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation.
“We [FBI leadership team] concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations.”
Jeff Sessions did recuse himself from the investigation on March 2. Watch his speech here. Jeff Sessions’ wording is very interesting in light of all that has been learned since he recused himself from the investigation.
Newsweek reports that after that Oval Office meeting, James Comey asked Jeff Sessions, who he reported to at the time, to ensure he was never left alone with Donald Trump again. James Comey wrote that in a memo that was released the day before his testimony.
“I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.”
Whether Jeff Sessions knew why Donald Trump kept James Comey behind on that day remains to be seen. We do not know why or how James Comey already knew long before the public that Jeff Sessions was likely to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation.
We do know that James Comey testified after the open hearing in a closed hearing on the subject of Jeff Sessions specifically. That does not bode well for Jeff Sessions.
There are already two known meetings on the record between Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Global News reports that the FBI has been asked to investigate the possibility of a third meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in April of 2016.
That James Comey testified about this in a closed hearing is being viewed as significant by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He said it “means there’s something out there that he knows about that the public doesn’t, and that he thinks bears on a need for Sessions to recuse himself in matters that related to Russia.”
Jeff Sessions has on paper recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation. But senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee had concerns about whether or not that was actually happening and questioned James Comey on that as well yesterday.
Comey said that he was not sure whether Sessions had violated the terms of his recusal and hinted that if Comey was fired by Sessions as a result of the Russia investigation, that would be a violation of Session’s recusal. Comey then appeared in a closed session with the committee and reportedly discussed Jeff Sessions.
I happen to have seen various GOP Senators this afternoon. Trust me: Basically, they're not just concerned. They're pretty terrified. https://t.co/WopZ2LiseR— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 8, 2017
A closed session on Jeff Sessions raised eyebrows across social media yesterday, as well as with members of Congress. Some GOP senators were reportedly “terrified” of the ramifications of all that has been happening in the last 24 hours.
Jeff Sessions is set to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee next Tuesday, reports NBC News. It is unclear if he will testify about these credibility concerns. It is also unclear whether Mike Pence will testify under oath on these matters. However, the calls for the president to testify under oath are increasing in number daily.
[Feature Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]