Former FBI Director James Comey is about to testify to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His opening statement, released Wednesday afternoon, was quite something, with references to President Trump's unsuccessful efforts to dominate Comey. But now that we know what Comey will say in his opening statement, the hearing will likely proceed without too much excitement. Here's why.
First off, Comey is a straight shooter. Though his public relations instincts can be poor, Comey does not live for the limelight. Some disagree, pointing to New York Times reports that reference Comey's Trump memos.
I disagree. I believe those memos were released by Comey (or his allies) simply to protect his reputation and that of his former agency. From Comey's perspective, Trump was discrediting his actions in the Russia investigation and the FBI. Comey could not let that threat stand unchallenged. Beyond that, since getting fired, Comey has taken a low profile: avoiding media interviews and remotely political events.
More importantly, Comey already said everything in his written opening statement that he could say. He gave context to unclassified conversations with Trump and he did so without compromising classified intelligence. As I explained earlier this week, Comey does not wish to be a performer for the pundits. Again, the proof of this assertion is found in Comey's opening statement: it ticked all the questions-to-be-asked boxes. If Comey wanted the Senate to be his stage and today to be his spectacle, he would have taken a different approach.
Imagine, for example, the attention Comey could have brought himself had he written a short statement affirming his respect for the FBI's mission, the Senate's role in U.S. politics, the objective pursuit of the truth, and nothing more. And if Comey had then answered each Senate question with a new tidbit from his actual statement.
For example, imagine a senator asked Comey, "What was your impression of your Jan. 27 dinner with President Trump?"
Imagine Comey responds, as in his written statement, "My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch."
That's soundbite number one.
Imagine another senator asks, "What did the president tell you about his relationship with Russia?"
Comey answers, as in his statement, "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia."
A former FBI director referencing hookers in while answering a senator? That's definitely a soundbite!
Imagine another senator asks, "Did the president say anything that particularly alarmed you?"
Comey answers, as in his statement, "The president said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence."
The silence following that answer would have been another guaranteed soundbite.
Of course, Comey has chosen a different approach. He has written his statement and will read it out before the Senate. And while that reading will be broadcast live, it will lack the stagecraft of Comey saying something in response to a direct question.
Comey knows this. His choice is deliberate. And it speaks to his desire to be forthright but not political.
Moreover, there's not a lot more that Comey can tell us. He cannot and will not provide an update on the most sensitive elements of the Russia investigation. He cannot and will not entertain Democratic senators in their efforts to see him hypothesize.
Comey just wants to get in and get out. He's not looking for a cable news contributor job, a book deal, or a lecture circuit. He's looking to do what he must to defend the FBI and the actions he took while he was at its helm.