What James Comey’s gripping Senate hearing told us about Donald Trump

Former FBI director James Comey is sworn in before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: AP/PTI)

On the surface, former FBI Director James Comey’s long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was underwhelming, failing to turn up a clear smoking gun. A closer analysis of what Comey said, however, portrays a damning picture of the president’s behaviour and, in doing this, undermines several of the arguments used by both the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress. In particular, three main themes stood out.

First, from the outset, and in his answers to senators, Comey highlighted the reality and the gravity of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He stated that there should be “no fuzz on [the issue] whatsoever”: the Russians interfered in the electoral process.

“It’s not a close call,” he added, “it’s about as unfake as you can possibly get” – a sure reference to Trump’s suggestion that the allegations regarding his campaign collusion with Russia was “fake news”.

More ominously yet, Comey also stressed that the Russian effort is clearly directed from the Kremlin and is a long-term strategy aimed at undermining future elections and the integrity and credibility of American democracy. This is made even more concerning by Comey’s admission that the president has never shown any interest in Russia’s behaviour and actions, nor in what measures could be taken to prevent future interference.

Second, while being very cautious in his account, Comey made unmistakably clear how poor an opinion he has of the president and the White House. In his opening statement, he accused the White House of lying about the FBI and, in particular, of lying regarding the reasons for Comey’s firing and, by doing so, discrediting the bureau. The administration decided to defame Comey and the FBI, saying that the bureau was in disarray and that it had lost confidence in Comey’s leadership. “Those,” said Comey, “were lies.”

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