Former FBI Director James Comey testified in open hearing for three hours Thursday morning. Reconvening for an afternoon closed session, the Senate Intelligence Committee spent several more hours hearing from Comey.
The short answer is that we already knew from leaks most of what he testified to, and he brought no new bombshells to the hearing itself, although there may be some in the classified session. However, there is plenty in what we already knew, which was confirmed by a written testimony from Comey released Wednesday night by the Committee. Here are some highlights:
1. In several one-to-one meetings and phone calls initiated by the president, Comey felt definite and inappropriate pressure from Trump concerning the ongoing investigation into Russia's involvement in our electoral process and any possible cooperation with members of the Trump campaign. On one occasion, Trump repeatedly pushed to get Comey to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Others included pressure to "let go" of the Flynn investigation. Even though he did not use words that in themselves constituted an order, the context and the situation made for intense pressure to do the president's bidding.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) illustrated this coercive kind of request by analogy: If someone holds a gun to your head and says, "I hope you will see your way clear to let go all your money," you don't take that as just a gentle suggestion. The abuse of power seemed confirmed when Trump fired Comey after not receiving the cooperation he sought -- and later when Trump said in a TV interview that it was the Russia investigation that he was thinking about when he made the decision to fire Comey.
2. The president's private lawyer has already held a press event to present the president's defense. He uses the letter of the law to declare that there was no pressure and therefor no obstruction of justice. He also declared Comey's reassurance to Trump that he was not personally under investigation to completely absolve Trump, even though Comey was clear that he was speaking only as of the time he made those statements. And, as one commentor brought out, the usual pattern is to go after the little guys first, and their testimony will lead you to the higher up, bigger guys later. So Trump is not off the hook. Trump's lawyer also distorted many other things and said some things that were literally not true.
3. Comey's live testimony itself, like Sally Yates, is almost as important as the facts. Each of them is such a great witness, who conveys integrity in such a way as to erase any doubts about the truth of their testimony. As Vox.com's Dara Lind said about Comey: "That image -- an unruffled professional, speaking on behalf of no one but himself and prompted by nothing but his own sense of right and wrong -- is the one Comey projected throughout the hearing. It was a masterful performance." [More on this tomorrow.]
4. Even before today, several legal scholars, including Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe, were willing to say that the evidence, if true, is sufficient to make the case for obstruction of justice against Trump. But that's a long way down the road. We'll have to wait for Bob Mueller to complete his investigation.
5. Some think it won't be the obstruction of justice that brings Trump down as much as the money trail. Mueller is pursuing that as well. In fact, he has recently added a new investigator to his team, one who is known for his expertise in cases of illegal money transactions.
Prepare for a long, long soap opera. Let's hope the country survives long enough and that it ends soon enough to repair the damage.