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Comey: Come on, impeachment would let America off the hook



Former FBI director James Comey kicked off his book tour yesterday with a prime-time interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos that ran two hours. Most of the highlights had either already been leaked by ABC or pre-empted by pre-release excerpts from A Higher Loyalty, but it contained a few surprises — and not all of those positive for Comey, either.

One surprise was in Comey’s warning about impeachment, even after calling Donald Trump “morally unfit to be president.” American voters made their choice, Comey told Stephanopoulos, and it should be left to the American voters to clean up the mess:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If you are right, what is the remedy? Should Donald Trump be impeached?

JAMES COMEY: Impeachment is– is a question of law and fact and politics. And so that’ll be determined by people gather–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re a citizen. You have a judgment.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I’ll tell you, I’ll give you a strange answer. I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they’re duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.

We’ll fight about guns. We’ll fight about taxes. We’ll fight about all those other things down the road. But you cannot have, as president of the United States, someone who does not reflect the values that I believe Republicans treasure and Democrats treasure and Independents treasure. That is the core of this country. That’s our foundation. And so impeachment, in a way, would short circuit that.

That doesn’t exactly make Comey a Trump defender. He later argued, toward the end of the interview, that ideas floated a while back to remove Trump as mentally unfit went far wide of the mark. Trump’s mental fitness is fine, Comey tells Stephanopoulos, but it’s his “moral fitness” that’s the problem:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You write that President Trump is unethical, untethered to the truth. Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?

JAMES COMEY: Yes. But not in the way m– I often hear people talk about it. I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on. I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.

A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds. And that’s not a policy statement. Again, I don’t care what your views are on guns or immigration or taxes.

There’s something more important than that that should unite all of us, and that is our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president.

Interestingly, Stephanopoulos doesn’t ask Comey to comment on Hillary Clinton’s moral fitness for office, but perhaps we’ll save the Hillary parts of the interview for another post. Comey comes across pretty well for most of the interview, but at times undermined his gravitas with observations better left for late-night comics. When Stephanopoulos asks him about meeting Trump for the first time, Comey joins the 4-H Club — hair, height, hue, and hands:

JAMES COMEY: My impression was he looked exactly like he did on television, except he looked shorter to me than he did on television, but otherwise exactly the same. And the reason I say that is most people look slightly different in person. I don’t know whether that’s bad or good, but he looked the way I’d seen him look on television.


JAMES COMEY: He had– impressively coifed hair, it looks to be all his. I confess, I stared at it pretty closely and my reaction was, “It most take a heck of a lot of time in the morning, but it’s impressively coifed.” He looked– his tie was too long, as it always is. He looked slightly orange up close with small white—half moons under his eyes, which I assume are from tanning googles. And otherwise looked as I had expected him to look from tele– as I thought he looked on television.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You even clocked the size of his hands?

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. I– I say that in my book ’cause I’m trying to be honest, ’cause that’s the truth there had been all this controversy and mocking about hand size, I can’t remember the details. But as I shook his hand I made a note to check the size and it seemed like he had average-sized hands.

The Hill’s Niall Stanage was unimpressed with those choices, although Stanage believes the overall effect of Comey’s interview will be a wash:

Given how Comey holds himself out as a paragon of ethical leadership — his book is titled “A Higher Loyalty” — it seemed incongruous to hear him mock Trump’s hairstyle and facial coloring.

Comey repeated the detail, included in the book, that he assumes Trump has small white circles beneath his eyes because of the use of tanning goggles. Of the famous Trump hairstyle, he told Stephanopoulos that “it looks to be all his” and added wryly that “it must take a heck of a lot of time in the morning.” …

Comey’s assertion that it is “possible” that Trump is compromised by Russia will also likely draw some hot comment in the next 24 hours.

He provided no specific evidence to back up that claim. Critics will contend that a former FBI director should not make such an incendiary charge without providing his basis for doing so.

And critics would be correct to do so, but both sides have made this personal for almost a year. Firing Comey was probably a mistake in the first place, and the president made Comey into a personal punching bag long before this. It’s a little unfair not to note that context when criticizing Comey’s public pushback, but Stanage is correct that this is a little “incongruous” to have someone lecturing on higher ethics while making cracks about orange skin and hand size.

Having read through the transcript and watched some of the reaction, the interview leaves the same impression that Comey’s book transcripts have. He has an interesting perspective on events, and the animus between Trump and Comey will make the latter a very popular figure on the talk-show tour. (Comey will be on Jake Tapper’s show live on Thursday afternoon, rather than in a pretape, by the way.) Nothing in this interview changes much politically for Trump, and may not for Comey either. It certainly won’t change anyone’s minds on impeachment, on either side of the aisle.

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Fearless Girl to stand on her own, at least for now




Fearless Girl is finally going to move and, at least for now, she won’t be taking Charging Bull with her. The decision to move Fearless Girl a few blocks away to a position opposite the New York Stock Exchange was prompted by concerns about crowds and traffic. From the NY Daily News:

The much-beloved statue will depart her perch opposite the iconic Charging Bull to stare down some new scenery: The New York Stock Exchange, the Daily News has learned…

The move comes as the city and the company sought a more permanent home for the popular statue — and one with fewer safety issues than her current spot in a Bowling Green median, which gets overrun with onlookers who often stand in the busy street…

Due to safety concerns about traffic — and potential terror attacks using cars — the city said it was also exploring moving the Charging Bull itself.

But while Fearless Girl will move by year’s end, there are no immediate plans to move the bull — the city said Wednesday it was “exploring” putting it somewhere else downtown.

However, there’s really no doubt that Fearless Girl doesn’t work without some opponent to be fearless about. So will staring down the New York Stock Exchange be enough? The NY Times reports that Mayor de Blasio really wants to keep the statues together:

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said that it was important to the mayor, who has posed with “Fearless Girl” and spoken of its meaning to young women and girls, to keep the two works together.

“The mayor felt it was important that the ‘Fearless Girl’ be in a position to stand up to the bull and what it stands for,” said Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary. “That’s why we’re aiming to keep them together. The bull has also always been a traffic and safety issue the city’s hemmed and hawed over. The moves achieve a few goals.”

Artist Arturo Di Modica, the creator of Charging Bull, has said his figure was meant to be a symbol of “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” It was, of course, a symbol of America’s economic strength and, implicitly at least, of the power of capitalism itself. Di Modica felt the addition of Fearless Girl turned his optimistic statue into a corporate comment on gender politics and, worse, a threat to be defied.

It’s interesting that the progressive Mayor is so eager to maintain that reinterpretation of Di Modica’s art. In fact, I think his press secretary’s statement goes a long way to proving Di Modica’s point about the attempt to reinterpret his work. Fearless Girl isn’t just standing up to the bull but also “what it stands for.” Why would Mayor de Blasio want to do that? A statement he made last year to New York Magazine might give a hint:

I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development. . . .

Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality. [Emphasis added.]

Fearless Girl’s placement opposite Charging Bull goes well beyond standing up for more women in high finance jobs and boardrooms (the alleged point of the statue). The Mayor who praised the “socialistic impulse” toward government planning is doing is best to change one of the best-known symbols of America’s free market into a threat to be defied. I really don’t think that’s an accident.

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Whoa: DOJ Inspector General sends criminal referral for Andrew McCabe to U.S. Attorney




You know who you can thank for this? James Comey! He’s the one who initiated the IG investigation into leaks to the WSJ in October 2016 about the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, or so he claimed to the Daily Beast. Which makes this tweet from January seem … awkward now:

Comey will be on Jake Tapper’s show for an interview within the hour. I wonder what the first question will be.

The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the matter…

Lying to federal investigators is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and some legal analysts speculated in the wake of the report that the inspector general seemed to be laying out a case for accusing McCabe of such conduct. The report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies “was done knowingly and intentionally” — which is a key aspect of the federal crime

Ironically, Comey — who appointed McCabe to his post as the No. 2 official in the FBI — stressed in his book released this week the importance of telling the truth to federal investigators and holding accountable those who do not.

“People must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system or the system can’t work,” wrote Comey in his new book, per WaPo, and how here we are. Will the next McCabe fundraising webathon be for bail money?

Comey reiterated yesterday on “The View” when asked about McCabe that lying to the feds isn’t okay. McCabe and his lawyer didn’t like that:

“In his comments this week about the McCabe matter, former FBI Director James Comey has relied on the accuracy and the soundness of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) conclusions in their report on Mr. McCabe. In fact, the report fails to adequately address the evidence (including sworn testimony) and documents that prove that Mr. McCabe advised Director Comey repeatedly that he was working with the Wall Street Journal on the stories in question prior to publication. Neither Mr. Comey nor the OIG is infallible, and in this case neither of them has it right.”

The wrinkle here is that the IG’s recommendation is based partly on a test of credibility between McCabe and Comey himself. McCabe claims that when Comey asked him in October 2016 whether he had authorized any info on the Clinton Foundation probe to be released to the WSJ, McCabe told him yes, that he was working with the paper to correct inaccuracies in the story. Comey, however, told the IG that McCabe told him he didn’t know who’d been talking to the paper. Upon further investigation, the IG agreed with Comey. Which is to say, if this turns into a prosecution — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the star witness against Andrew McCabe might be … James Comey.

The statute here, by the way, is the same statute that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to violating: 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a crime to lie to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney will be under heavy political pressure to indict McCabe in order to show that the “no lying” rule applies to its own officers just as much as it does to Trump’s aides. Although I wonder if Trump might inadvertently let them off the hook by tweeting something celebratory about the McCabe referral, leaving the U.S. Attorney to argue that the president’s endless Twitter attacks on McCabe have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. As such, he might not be charged or, if he’s amenable, he may be allowed to cop a plea with a wrist-slap penalty. If anything is capable of driving home the lesson to Trump that he shouldn’t be tweeting about pending legal matters, watching McCabe walk free because of his big mouth might be it.

Nah, who are we kidding. Nothing will drive that lesson home. Exit question: What if McCabe and Michael Cohen end up as cellmates in the federal pen? I smell sitcom.

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Trump: Feds will not pay for Jerry Brown’s National Guard ‘charade’




The war of words between President Trump and California Governor Jerry Brown over illegal immigration heated up again this morning. Just yesterday Gov. Brown suggested 400 National Guard troops would be headed for the border and that the federal government had agreed to pay for it. But this morning President Trump tweeted this:

This all started a couple weeks ago when President Trump announced that, since funding for his border wall was stalled, he was calling on states to send National Guard troops to the border. A week later, there was another surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he would be sending 400 National Guard troops to the border to fight smuggling and drug trafficking. However, Brown also drew a line at getting involved in preventing illegal immigration saying, “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

That made it a bit unclear what California’s troops were actually going to do. National Guard troops are not allowed to arrest people at the border. That’s the job of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Troops from other states were using surveillance equipment and notifying the border patrol if they saw someone trying to cross the border. They were also given jobs doing paperwork and other support roles aimed at freeing up more border patrol officers. But earlier this week the Associated Press reported that California was rejecting most of the actual jobs the border patrol wanted the troops to do.

The state informed federal officials it will not allow its troops to fix and repair vehicles, operate remotely-controlled surveillance cameras to report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, operate radios and provide “mission support,” which can include clerical work, buying gas and handling payroll, according to officials with knowledge of the talks who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The next day, California officials said they were not backing away from sending troops to the border even as a CBP Deputy Commissioner confirmed the core of the Associated Press report, i.e. Gov. Brown would not let his troops do a number of support jobs for the border patrol.

Wednesday, Gov. Brown released a statement saying 400 troops were headed to the border, “after securing the federal government’s commitment this week to fund the mission.” That certainly makes it sound as if some agreement has been reached. But if so, Trump’s tweet this morning appears to be rejecting that agreement. So far, there has not been a response from Gov. Brown clarifying whether or not his National Guard troops are still headed for the border.

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