In this week’s paper, I argued that Donald Trump had obstructed justice and lied to the American public, that he was a menace who needed to be impeached and removed from office posthaste, based on his firing of James Comey, his mendacity and obfuscation, his divulging of state secrets to the Russians, his rank ignorance and incompetence.
All of that was finished and sent to the printer by two p.m. yesterday. Three hours later, The New York Times dropped its bombshell: Trump had asked Comey in February to end the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia. In other words, if Comey’s account was correct, Trump had obstructed justice and pretty obviously committed an impeachable offense.
So I’m not going to belabor the point. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to note the immediate reaction of North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee overseeing the Trump-Russia investigation.
Before I get there, a quick recap: After the Comey firing, the once-somnolent intelligence committee finally showed signs of life, subpoenaing documents from Flynn, seeking financial records on the Trump Organization from the Treasury Department, and asking Comey to testify in a closed hearing. (Comey declined; an associate told the Times he wants to testify in public.) On Friday, Burr told the INDY’s Thomas Goldsmith that his committee had taken testimony from thirty witnesses, but he also said he didn’t want the hearings to turn into a witch hunt.
So how did Burr, who wields enormous investigatory power, react to the Times’s latest scoop, which was quickly confirmed by every other national media outlet?
Asked by a reporter if he had jurisdiction to obtain the memos that the NYT reported about, Comey said this (see 45-second mark): “Listen, I know basically what The New York Times is reporting, so if they have them, why don’t they release them?”
A reporter explained that the Times was read the memo over the phone.
“Really?” Burr responded. “You know, I’m getting really, really tired of anonymous sources, and I could write something, and I could read it over the phone and I could tell it came from—let me tell you this, as close as [ranking intelligence committee Democrat] Mark Warner and I have worked with [Comey] over the past how many months now, I actually believe the director might have told us if there had been a request like that. And it was never mentioned by him. So somebody’s going to have to do more than have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe there’s something there.”
Sure. I suppose it’s possible that the Times—and then the Washington Post, and everyone else—got duped by FBI sources who have an ax to grind against the president, but this is all a matter that’s easy enough to clear up. Comey’s memos can be subpoenaed by Congress. Comey himself can be subpoenaed by Congress. The Times does not have that authority. Burr, if he’s interested, can get to the bottom of this.
That’s really the question here. Is he interested?
In all likelihood, it’s going to happen with or without him. Last night, Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee (but is not seeking reelection and is rumored to be heading soon for Fox News), sent a letter to the FBI demanding that the agency turn over documents and recordings related to conversations between Trump and Comey. If that doesn’t work, he’s talking about subpoenas.
Burr could do the same. Or he could call for an independent commission and a special prosecutor—recognitions of the need for a sober, apolitical inquiry into the truth of the Trump-Russia affair and any actions Trump or his subordinates might have taken to hinder the FBI’s investigation.