It was a dramatic day that gripped Washington.
Former FBI Director James Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he provided new insights into his relationship with President Trump and the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Here are the winners and losers from an explosive day on Capitol Hill.
Former FBI Director James Comey
Comey rode into the Thursday hearing on a wave of positive press. He figures to go back to civilian life on the same high.
Comey’s seven-page opening statement was praised for its prose and will be remembered for its portrayal of excruciating personal interactions involving a president at war with his FBI director.
Comey’s reputation for being “politically savvy” will grow after he revealed that he engineered the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia by sharing his notes about conversations with Trump through an intermediary to The New York Times — for the express purpose of getting the counsel picked.
There will definitely be some blowback for Comey, who had criticized leaks while serving as FBI director. His admission of sharing the notes underlines his image as a Washington player — and perhaps not in a completely complimentary way.
Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz ripped Comey at a presser after the hearing, criticizing the leak as improper and insisting that Trump never asked for his loyalty.
Yet the bipartisan praise he won from senators on the Intelligence panel will make it more difficult for critics to tar him.
And Comey’s reputation as someone who looked out for an independent FBI is unlikely to be shaken.
Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTexas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements Burr brother-in-law ordered to testify in insider trading probe MORE (R-N.C.)
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee needed a substantive hearing after top intelligence officials rebuffed his panel’s questions a day earlier.
Burr got what he needed — dramatic and explosive testimony from Comey that was conducted with precision and control amid a national frenzy.
The chairman has had his ups and downs; Burr sparked a political firestorm by talking over Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at a rowdier hearing on Wednesday.
But Burr looked like a responsible leader on Thursday, and his positive relationship with Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFive Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future MORE (D-Va.), the panel’s vice chairman, has helped the Intelligence Committee’s reputation for independence withstand partisan fighting over the Russia probe.
After Thursday’s hearing, Burr and Warner held a joint press conference where they again showed off their ability to cooperate and share the spotlight.
The Intelligence Committee has a reputation as a credible investigative body, and much of that is due to Burr.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
Harris’s profile is rising fast.
On Wednesday, liberals rushed to her defense after Burr scolded her for a contentious exchange with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Harris then kicked off Thursday with an appearance on NBC's “The Today Show.”
At the hearing, Harris — who previously served as attorney general for California — approached Comey in a lighthearted exchange that provoked the former FBI director to acknowledge that he’s “between opportunities” professionally.
Then she focused on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE. Comey’s responses raised new questions about the circumstances surrounding Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation following reports that he talked with the Russian ambassador several times before the election.
Expect chatter about Harris as a potential 2020 presidential candidate to grow.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security MORE (R-Fla.)
Rubio, a former presidential candidate, and Trump clashed on the campaign trail, with the president memorably dismissing the Florida Republican as “Little Marco.”
On Thursday, Rubio was Trump’s most effective defender.
Rubio pressed Comey on why it would be so bad for the president to want to be exonerated publicly. He argued that there was nothing nefarious about the president asking for loyalty and blasted the FBI for its leaks.
“This investigation is full of leaks, left and right,” Rubio said. “I mean, we've learned more from the newspapers sometimes than we do from our open hearings.
“You ever wonder why, of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that's never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in the leadership of Congress knew that, and have known that for weeks?”
Rubio denies that he was defending Trump, but conservatives cheered his challenge to Comey, which sought to poke holes in the media's Russia narrative.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller
Comey used the Intelligence Committee platform to flatter his former boss and talk up the credibility of Mueller’s special investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign.
“Mueller is one of the best public servants this country has ever produced," Comey said.
Muller already had a sterling reputation heading into Thursday’s hearing. More than either of the ultra-politicized congressional probes, Mueller’s investigation figures to be the final word on the Russia matter.
Washington, D.C., bars
It was standing-room only at Duffy’s Irish Pub at 10 a.m. when Comey took the stand, a phenomenon that played out across the city’s drinking spots.
Eager to capitalize on the Comey frenzy, bars across Washington opened early and hawked insider-y specials such as the “Covfefe Cocktail.”
The atmosphere wasn’t necessarily festive — bar-goers often sat in silence, mesmerized by the proceedings.
But it was the rare political event that could produce NFL Sunday-style turnout. Bar owners capitalized.
There was much to be relieved about after Thursday’s hearing if you were Trump or his staff.
The legal case against Trump didn’t grow from Comey’s testimony, which included no new bombshells.
There is still no evidence that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia, and Comey would not say that the president sought to obstruct justice by asking him to “lift the cloud” over his administration and the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey also said Trump was not under investigation while he was at the FBI, validating public remarks by the president.
Still, it’s never a good day when an FBI director accuses you of being a liar and defaming the federal law enforcement power.
Overall, it was another bad day in politics for Trump, who has had many of those in recent weeks.
The Comey drama and the Russian probe are badly hampering Trump’s ability to govern. The president’s job approval rating hit a new low this week and his agenda has stalled in Congress.
Comey’s testimony will only thicken the “cloud” of controversy that Trump, according to the former FBI director, really wanted to see lifted.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Thursday was a similarly bad day for Sessions, who has already had a bad week.
The former FBI director hinted darkly about “facts” he couldn’t reveal in an open session that might explain why Sessions had to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling.
This suggests there may be more shoes to drop for Sessions when it comes to Russia.
Amid cascading reports that Sessions is on the outs with Trump and has offered his resignation, the news that there could be future stories about Russia is hardly helpful.
The White House for days refused to say whether Trump had confidence in his attorney general.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally relented on Thursday, giving Sessions a vote of confidence as Comey testified.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch
Comey savaged his former boss, casting her as a politically driven attorney general who sought to interfere with his investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE’s use of a private email server while secretary of State in order to protect her presidential campaign.
The former FBI director detailed how Lynch had pressured him to describe the Clinton probe as a political “matter” rather than a criminal investigation.
Comey directly tied Lynch’s pressure back to Clinton, saying he believes Lynch was pushing that line because of pressure from the campaign.
“That gave me a queasy feeling,” Comey said.
Conservatives are calling for an investigation.
There has been a lot of back-patting going on between media outlets congratulating themselves for explosive scoops pertaining to the Russia investigation.
Comey threw a wet blanket on that.
“There have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff, but about Russia that are dead wrong,” Comey said.
He singled out one New York Times story, called “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence,” describing it as “almost entirely wrong.”
Comey said incorrect reports are frustrating to the FBI because its policy is not to comment on the media's coverage of its investigations, even when the press is getting it wrong.
The remarks are sure to fuel the Trump administration, which has repeatedly railed against “fake news” and the media’s reliance on unnamed sources. It comes during a week in which stories from CNN and ABC about Comey’s testimony required heavy corrections.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.)
Political watchers were eager to see the exchange between Comey and McCain, the 30-year veteran of the Senate and fierce Trump critic.
McCain is not an official member of the Intelligence Committee. He was granted an ex officio seat by virtue of being the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
But McCain fumbled through an unfocused line of questioning, starting with Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
“I’m a little confused, senator,” Comey said midway through.
There were no meaningful or impactful moments from their exchange and McCain was roundly mocked for his performance on social media.
“Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games,” McCain said in a statement later.
The Diamondbacks later sent out a shrug emoji in response.