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Senator Grassley attacks Comey on Russiagate, Trump admits “no tapes”

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) questions witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled 'Whistleblower Retaliation at the FBI: Improving Protections and Oversight' on Capitol Hill on March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The hearing follows a Government Accountability Office report which disclosed that whistleblower protections at the FBI are weaker than other government agencies and that current procedures could discourage whistleblowing. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight over the FBI, and before which former FBI Director James Comey gave evidence a short while ago, has today torn into Comey.

Specifically Grassley has criticised Comey for fanning ‘conspiracy theories’ pertaining to the Russiagate probe, for colluding with the Obama administration in ‘soft-pedalling’ the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and for refusing President Trump’s reasonable request for a public statement that he was not himself under investigation.

Grassley is right on all these points, even if unfortunately he confuses the issue by continuing to accuse Russia of meddling in the US election.  Indeed, rather bizarrely, he has today actually criticised Comey for ‘helping’ Russia by spreading false stories about the President.

The single most important point Grassley made today – one whose significance is only very gradually coming to be understood – is that Comey acted wrongly be repeatedly refusing the President’s perfectly reasonable and proper request for a public statement that he was not under investigation as part of the Russiagate probe.

I have already touched on this point previously

Comey resisted the President’s wish for a public statement saying that the President is not under investigation in the Russiagate probe.  His reasons for doing so were that the President might hypothetically come under investigation in the future, which might require a future statement contradicting any previous statement that he was not under investigation as part of the probe.

That is a totally wrong reason for refusing the President’s request whose logic is totally flawed…..

…….the President’s requests to Comey that there be a public statement confirming that he was not personally under investigation were perfectly proper and legitimate, even though the President was wrong to address them to Comey personally, and should have done so through the Department of Justice.

The President was perfectly right to say that the constant insinuations in the media that he might be under investigation for colluding with the Russians was putting his Presidency under “a cloud” and was interfering with his ability to conduct foreign policy, and given that he was not under investigation the President was fully justified in wanting to have the fact that he was not under investigation made public.

As for Comey’s resort to hypothetical scenarios in order to deny the President’s request, it should be said clearly that this was wholly inappropriate, and the fact that Comey during his testimony hid behind the alleged opinions of one of his investigators in order to justify his refusal shows that he knows it.

As to the reason Comey gave for refusing the President’s request, that an announcement that the President was not under investigation might have to be publicly contradicted if the President ever were to come under investigation in the future, it should be said clearly that the reasoning here is fundamentally flawed, for reasons which are not difficult to explain.

Obviously should the President ever come under investigation then the FBI and the Justice Department must make the fact public, and it would be wholly wrong if they did not.  That should happen irrespective of whether or not there had been a previous announcement that the President was not under investigation.   The one should in no sense be dependent on the other.

Comey’s implication that there would only have to be a public announcement of an investigation of the President if a previous announcement had been made that the President was not under investigation – so that this previous statement would have to be ‘corrected’ – is not only completely wrong.  It is actually utter nonsense and Comey knows it.  It is astounding – and lamentable – that it seems that none of the Senators do.

Since Comey gave his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee there has been some discussion amongst legal scholars as to whether it was proper for Comey to disclose to the President the fact that he was not under investigation.  In my opinion there was nothing improper in Comey telling the President this for reasons which I will set out below.

Regardless the fact is that Comey did disclose this fact to the President, and having done so there were no grounds for him to refuse the President’s perfectly proper and reasonable request – made to him by the nation’s head of state and chief executive – for a public statement which the President felt was needed to make it possible for him to run the government.

Senator Grassley today has made the same point.  Moreover Grassley has disclosed that Comey not only informed the President he was not under investigation; he also informed Congressional leaders as well.  Moreover Comey not only refused the President’s request for a public statement; he also refused Grassley’s request was for such a statement notwithstanding that Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Committee which was supervising him.

This was grossly insubordinate behaviour.  Quite simply Comey abused his position as the nation’s most senior law enforcement officer to sabotage the President’s conduct of the government.  It confirms that Comey was conducting the Russiagate inquiry in a grossly partisan way, and would have justified his dismissal in itself.

Two further points have arisen in the Russiagate investigation over the last few days.

Firstly, the President today admitted that he made no tape recordings of his meetings with Comey.  It had become clear for some time that there were none, and that – disastrously and very foolishly – the President himself had no contemporaneous records made of these meetings at all.

Secondly, it has been fascinating to see the response of Russiagate supporters to the statement of Jay Sekulow – Trump’s lawyer – that the President is not under investigation for obstruction of justice.

Instead of straightforwardly admitting that the anonymously sourced Washington Post saying that he was is wrong, they have clung to the belief that he is, citing Sekulow’s supposed admission that Special Counsel Mueller has not told the President’s lawyers that the President is not under investigation.

This is a classic case of construing a positive – that the President is under investigation – from a negative – that Special Counsel Mueller has not told the President’s lawyers that he is not under investigation.

As I am obliged repeatedly to point out, construing a positive from a negative is a logical fallacy, though I have long since given up looking for logic in the Russiagate case.

Briefly, quite apart from the statement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – which was clearly intended to refute the Washington Post story – if the President really were under investigation for obstruction of justice it is a certainty Special Counsel Mueller would tell his lawyers.

It is a fundamental error to treat the President of the United States as if he were in the same position as anyone else who might be under investigation.  This is an error which is being constantly made, including by those who question the propriety of Comey telling the President that he was not under investigation.  The sooner this error stops being made the better proper understanding of the Russiagate case will be.

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