What we learned from Comey statement

Former FBI director JAmes Comey is set to testify before congress in less than 12 hours.

Wednesday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey released his prepared opening statement ahead of his hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Community. 

The full statement can be viewed here.

University of Texas history professor Jeremi Suri discussed Comey's statement and what people could expect from Thursday's testimony. 

"What does surprise me is the degree to which Trump was recklessly willing to cross the line between what would be information gathering and actively trying to manipulate a law enforcement operation," Suri explained. 

He listed his three biggest takeaways from the seven-page document: 

  1. Comey reported having nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump, compared to only two with President Obama
  2. Trump's request for loyalty from Comey
  3. Comey's sharing of his conversations with President Trump to fellow FBI officials

Another key issue that caught Suri's attention - Trump's plea to Comey to "let this go," in regards to an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. 

"It's a big no-no not just for presidents of the United States, but for leaders of corporations also," Suri said. 

He discussed the strategy behind Comey choosing to release his opening statement ahead of the testimony.

"He wants to frame the discussion going into (Thursday), and he wants the discussion to focus on the issues that he thinks are the issues that should be discussed, which are the issues in his prepared statement," Suri said. 

Suri does not believe Comey will discuss details of any ongoing investigations, he added that he has greater leeway in what he can discuss compared to current officials. 

"I do think he will speak to the details of not just his interactions with Trump, but his perceptions, his judgments. He's now free as a citizen to voice his judgments," explained Suri. 

While Comey will be at the center of attention, Suri said people will also likely be focusing on those asking the questions. 

"That's the interesting thing about hearings.  It's not just the testimony of Comey that's being watched, it's also how the senators act. What do they think is their appropriate behavior?  If they look blase, like they don't care, that might not the right image for them on TV," said Suri.

The document details Comey's conversations and meetings with Trump, with Suri pointing out a greater emphasis on Trump's relationship with Flynn than the ongoing probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. 

"I think the opening statement was not the full nightmare that Trump might have feared. Trump does not say in there that the Russians controlled the Trump campaign.  He does not actually comment on Russian behavior yet, (although) he might on (Thursday)," said Suri.

A key focus of Comey's testimony will be if any of his claims could constitute "obstruction of justice."

University of Texas law professor H.W. Perry Jr. explained what's necessary to prove such a charge. 

"That's where I go back to this intent. What was the intent? To prove that it's a crime, (it) becomes very important, and proving intent is always really hard," Perry Jr. explained. 

Like "obstruction of justice," the baseline for impeachment can be murky. 

"What's impeachable and what can make someone be convicted - is in the eyes of the beholder, which is in the hands of Congress," Perry Jr. said. 

Another point of contention - the line between unethical and illegal behavior. 

"It's hard to understand when the lack of what people believe is ethical behavior, will lead them to make a judgment of what is an impeachable offense, and what is an offense you can be convicted for in the Senate," said Perry Jr, who further described the judgment of impeachment and conviction as a "political judgment."

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