When he got his chance in this morning’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to question former FBI Director James Comey, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch shifted into trial-attorney mode, parsing the words of a key portion of Comey’s written testimony and peppering him with questions aimed at suggesting the testimony actually absolves President Trump of any potential charge of obstruction of justice.
“I want to drill right down, as my time is limited, to the most recent dustup regarding allegations that the president of the United States obstructed justice,” Risch said. He complimented Comey on his clear, concise, written testimony, including quotations.
“And boy, you nailed this down,” Risch said, “on page 5, paragraph 3, you put this in quotes – words matter, you wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There’s 28 words there that are in quotes, and it says, quote, ‘I hope,’ this is the president speaking, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ Now those are his exact words, is that correct?”
“Correct,” Comey responded.
“And you wrote them here and you put them in quotes?” Again, Comey responded, “Correct.”
“Thank you for that,” Risch said, adding sharply, “He did not direct you to let it go.” “Not in his words, no,” Comey responded.
“He did not order you to let it go,” Risch said. “Again, those words are not an order,” Comey responded.
“He said I HOPE,” Risch said. “Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, charging people with criminal offenses, and of course you acknowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice, or for that matter any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?”
Comey responded, “I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying his words, is I took it as a direction. This is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying ‘I hope this.’ I took it as this is what he wants me to do. Now I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”
Risch said, “You may have taken it as a direction, but that’s not what he said.” Comey responded, “Correct, that’s why I,” but Risch interrupted. “He said ‘I hope,’” Risch said.
“Those are exact words, correct,” Comey responded.
“You don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something,” Risch said, “is that a fair statement?”
“I don’t as I sit here,” Comey responded.