OPINION: It wasn’t Watergate, but Comey hearing could be Trump's Waterloo
© Greg Nash

This was James Comey's day. 

In no way did it lift the cloud for Donald Trump.

Comey was calm, candid and deliberate. He clearly made the case that this President tampered and leaned on him to not do his job. Comey did not hold back.

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With all the controversy surrounding him, he still enjoys the respect of all 15 Senators on this select committee. When they addressed him they always called him "Director Comey" (although as everyone knew he no longer held that title), not "Mr. Comey."

 

Comey would not directly say that the President had committed "obstruction of justice." But he surely implied it.

Comey's personal estimation of Donald Trump was devastating. He talked about "the nature of the person" and that he wrote everything down after meeting with him or talking to him on the phone because he thought "he might lie."

There was absolutely no doubt in Comey's mind on why he was fired.

He skillfully used Trump's own words to explain this action. The words which Trump said to the Russian foreign minister and Ambassador to "relieve the pressure" on the Russian investigation.

These words were said, unbelievably, in the Oval Office itself.

On the subject of taking it easy on former National Security Director Michael Flynn ("I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy."), he said he took Trump's statement "as a directive."

In his opening remarks Comey pulled no punches. He said the President of the United States sought "to defame me and the FBI."

And he provided the headline with this piercing observation: "Those were lies, plain and simple."

He defended the organization he had led with this all encompassing declaration. "The FBI is honest and strong. The FBI is independent."

The hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building is in no way majestic. The room lacked the grandeur where the Watergate hearings were held. It is a room arranged and constructed for the TV cameras.

I found it strange that all of these proceedings having to do with copious misdeeds were taking place in a building named after someone who members of both parties universally thought was nearly a saint. 

Phil Hart, the Democratic senator from Michigan, was revered by his colleagues for his decency and integrity.

There were 96 seats reserved for the public. 

There were reserved seats for members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the two democrats from California Maxine Waters and Brad Sherman, and course one for Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). (She never fails to appear as an overly interested spectator.)

Two members of the U.S. Senate not on the committee were in attendance: Democrats Bill Nelson from Florida and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

One unexpected visitor was Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

When I asked why he was there — he replied sternly and with an irritated tone, "I'm a member of the public and this is a matter of great public interest."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chair of the Select Committee, opened the day's events. And what a day it was. It was a Thursday special enough for Burr to don socks for the hearing.

He called for an "open and candid discussion." He explained to everyone assembled that this was Comey's "opportunity to set the record straight." 

He mused that the hearing would allow "all relevant parties to put this episode to rest." (Good luck on that one.) Burr was amiable, but he's no Sam Ervin. 

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) provided the other extended opening remarks. He is called not ranking member but more lofty and dignified - Vice-Chair.

Warner who recently has been laboring behind the higher and more visible profile of the other Senator from Virginia - Tim Kaine - was surprisingly strong. Even eloquent. He is not known for his eloquence or passion.

But on this morning, his words were excellent. He talked about how "a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home - sowing chaos." That they were here to "find out the full story" so that the Russians "can't do it again."

Warner went on to talk about President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE's "odd and unexplained affection for Putin."

None of the other Senators distinguished themselves during their one round of seven minutes to ask questions.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) brought up the Logan Act in an attempt to minimize the damage. He failed miserably to make a coherent point.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), to put it simply, made no sense. He protested that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Top GOP legislator in California leaves party GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE was not being investigated for collusion with the Russians. (When in fact she was the victim of Russian hacking.)

Most of the crowd couldn't follow or understand McCain's line of questioning or random comments. When he continued to ramble on, Burr felt the necessity to pronounce "Senator, your time has expired." 

The only instance when those words were uttered.

This one morning, one day hearing will be remembered for its business-like manner. There were no moments of high drama and few surprises. Polite and nonconfrontational was its hallmark.

But for Donald Trump, this day very well might be cited as the beginning of a tortured path that could lead to impeachment and indictment. 

Possibly resignation or ultimately complete and total disgrace.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington's NPR affiliate, where he co-hosted the "D.C. Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington's all-news radio station, where he hosted "The Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.


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