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Comey testimony: Trump says vindicated, detractors allege obstruction

Trump’s lawyer said Comey’s testimony established that the president was not being investigated for colluding with the Russians, but his critics said he had left himself open to charges of obstructing an ongoing investigation.

world Updated: Jun 09, 2017 22:59 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,former FBI director James Comey,former national security adviser Michael Flynn
Trump also called Comey a leaker after the latter admitted he asked a friend to share the contents of his memos with a reporter.(Reuters)

US President Donald Trump has claimed “total and complete vindication” in former FBI director James Comey’s testimony, but his detractors insisted the deposition showed he tried to “improperly” stop and “potentially obstruct” the investigation into his then national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia dealings.

In a blunt and dramatic three-hour testimony before the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, Comey called Trump a “liar” multiple times and said he had asked him to drop the Flynn probe but repeated, in oral and written submissions, that the president was never under investigation personally.

The former FBI director also admitted to releasing notes of his conversations with Trump. “My judgment was I needed to get that out in the public square so I asked a friend of mine to share the contents of the memos with a reporter … (also) because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” he said.

That was probably Trump’s reason to feel vindicated. “ Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” he tweeted on Friday morning, in his first public response to the hearing.

Comey’s memos were not classified as secret and their release could not be called a “leak” in the strictest sense of the word, but Trump and his outside lawyer Marc Kasowitz have sought to portray it as such based on Comey’s own admission. “Today, Mr Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorised disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president,” he said.

Kasowitz, who has been a personal lawyer to Trump for years, also explained the vindication claimed by Trump in the tweet. “In sum, it is now established that the president was not being investigated for colluding with the Russians or attempting to obstruct that investigation.”

But Trump’s critics and detractors found enough reasons in Comey’s testimony to allege the president might have crossed the line, leaving himself open to charges of obstructing an ongoing investigation into Flynn.

“In my view, this testimony constitutes evidence of an intention to interfere or potentially obstruct at least a portion of the Russia investigation, if not more,” Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the house intelligence committee — which is conducting a parallel Russia probe — wrote in a statement.

When asked by a Senator at the hearing if the president’s request to Comey to “let this go” in reference to the Flynn probe amounted to obstructing justice, the former FBI director said, “I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense.”

For Preet Bharara — the US attorney sacked by Trump after being asked to continue — Trump’s request on Flynn was the key issue. “Main Comey hearing takeaway: POTUS (an acronym for president of the United States) improperly said drop Flynn case & only refutation is 2nd-hand, error-filled stmt from paid atty Kasowitz,” he tweeted.

First Published: Jun 09, 2017 21:10 IST