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Trump Says He’d Testify Under Oath About Comey And Russia, That Would Be A Mistake

Trump Gavel

In response to former F.B.I. Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, in which Comey accused the President of lying in several respects in public statement he’s made about their interactions and the Russia investigation, President Trump is saying he’d be willing to testify under oath himself:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday accused James B. Comey, the fired F.B.I. director, of lying under oath to Congress, saying he would gladly provide sworn testimony disputing Mr. Comey’s charge that the president forced him out because of his handling of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Mr. Trump asserted that the comments on Thursday by Mr. Comey, whom he called “a leaker,” had proved that there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow, nor any obstruction of justice by the president. He hinted again that he had tapes of his private talks with the former F.B.I. chief that would disprove Mr. Comey’s account, but declined to confirm the existence of any recordings.

“Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction,” Mr. Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, during a news conference with the visiting Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis.

He dismissed Mr. Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating whether his campaign worked with Russia to sway the election, as a politically motivated stunt orchestrated by adversaries bitter about his victory in November.

“That was an excuse by the Democrats, who lost an election that some people think they shouldn’t have lost,” he said. “But we were very, very happy, and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said, and some of the things that he said just weren’t true.”

The remarks were a defiant response from Mr. Trump, who had remained uncharacteristically silent on social media during Mr. Comey’s blockbuster day of testimony on Thursday, as the former F.B.I. chief laid out an account that strongly suggested the president’s private exchanges with him had been an attempt to obstruct justice. They escalated an extraordinary public feud between a sitting president and the ousted F.B.I. director who had been investigating his campaign, each now engaging in full-throated accusations that the other is lying.

But Mr. Trump’s comments reflected a highly selective reading of Mr. Comey’s testimony, much of which painted a damaging picture of the president’s conduct. Mr. Comey told Congress that the president had not personally been under investigation while he was the F.B.I. director, and that at one point Mr. Trump suggested he would like to find out whether any of his associates had done anything wrong. But his account also strongly suggested that Mr. Trump had tried to influence his handling of the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump denied that he had ever asked Mr. Comey to drop the F.B.I. investigation into his former national security adviser’s dealings with Russia, or asked for a pledge of loyalty, as Mr. Comey asserted Thursday. Those conversations are reflected in memos Mr. Comey wrote, and now are in the possession of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation who was named after Mr. Comey’s firing.

“I didn’t say that,” Mr. Trump said of the request regarding the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. “And there’d be nothing wrong if I did say it.”

Of the loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said, “I hardly know the man; I’m not going to ask him to pledge allegiance.”

Asked whether he would be willing to provide his version under oath, Mr. Trump responded, “100 percent.” He said of Mr. Mueller, “I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you.”

The president declined repeatedly to say whether, as he suggested last month in a Twitter post, he had recordings of his conversations with Mr. Comey. “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time,” he said. “You’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.”

The tantalizing comment appeared to catch the attention of congressional investigators participating in the Russia probe. Representative K. Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas, and Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, quickly announced they had written to Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, requesting that any recordings or memos about Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Comey be furnished to the intelligence committee within two weeks. They also said they had made a formal request to Mr. Comey for copies of the memos he testified about on Thursday or notes reflecting the meetings.

The question that Trump was asked about testifying didn’t actually differentiate between speaking to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Russia matter, or before Congress, but many observers have taken Trump to mean that he was volunteering to testify under oath before a Congressional Committee as well as talking to Mueller. If that’s the case, it would be a highly unusual step that is virtually unprecedented in American history. According to an item posted at the U.S. Senate website, it has only happened three times in American history. The first occurred in 1862 when President Lincoln spoke to members of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the circumstances behind the leaking of his annual message to Congress to a New York newspapers and the rumors that his wife may have somehow been involved in the affair. This discussion, however, doesn’t appear to have been a formal committee hearing. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to answer questions regarding the Treaty of Versailles, but this too appears from the history to have been an informal meeting rather than a formal committee hearing. Finally in what appears to be the only time a sitting President went to Capitol Hill and appeared before a formal Committee hearing, in October 1974 President Ford appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his decision to pardon President Nixon. The committee did not request or require Ford to take an oath before testifying, however.

As Jonathan Turley and Jazz Shaw both note, testifying under oath before Congress would be a highly risky move by Trump given his own history and the status of the Russia investigation and his own well-documented history for exaggeration and outright lies in public statements that he doesn’t seem to have the slightest problem with. False statements before Congress, even if they aren’t under oath, could end up being grounds for a criminal charge independent of any investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, for example, and agreeing to appear in a formal, televised committee setting would mean opening himself up to questioning from Members of Congress and Senators on a wide variety of matters, any one of which could get him into trouble. Additionally, there are serious issue involved with setting a precedent whereby the person who is, in and of themselves, a co-equal branch of the Federal Government to the legislature would be conceding that the legislature has the right to control the Presidency in some respect, something simply not supported by the Constitution. This is why, for example, there is no equivalent to the Prime Minister’s Question Time before Parliament that the United Kingdom has here in the United States. Under the British system, the Prime Minister is a member of the House of Commons who just happens to be the leader of the majority party in the chamber. He or she is basically the same as the most common backbencher but for the power granted to the leader of the majority party by law and tradition. The President is not a member of the legislature, but the representative of a separate and co-equal branch of government and therefore needs to be treated differently than a Prime Minister would.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I hope he does, I hope he does, I hope he does. Watching this deliquescing yam get roasted under hot lights would be a satisfaction beyond description.

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  2. Todd says:

    Man, I want to say that there’s no conceivable way this could actually happen.

    … but after the last year and half, nothing much would shock me.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. Gustopher says:

    Is perjury really a high crime or a misdemeanor? And is it really perjury if you believe it?

    We would have Republicans excusing the Presidential Perjury by explaining that he’s new at this, and he doesn’t know any better, and it’s all fine. What does a little perjury, some modest obstruction of justice, a touch a money laundering, or even a bit of light treason have to do with anything? The American people don’t care about that. We have job creators paying too much in taxes!

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  4. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:

    Perjury is very hard to prove in a congressional setting such as this would be. Misleading or ambiguous statements don’t count. But it is, nonetheless, a serious crime.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Yes, testifying under oath would be a big mistake for Trump. But so is taking anything he says seriously. Best to note this briefly as Trump blowing again and move on without engaging with it in detail.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: you nailed it. Trump isn’t going to testify under oath. Those are just words that happen to come out of his mouth. They have no real meaning. Nothing he says has any real meaning because he doesn’t think that saying something obligates him in any way.

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  7. CSK says:

    He could be just egoistical enough and sufficiently stupid to regard testifying under oath as a glorious opportunity to demonstrate what a strong, vital, commanding figure he is.

    Never underestimate his capacity for self-delusion. It’s boundless.

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  8. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Is perjury really a high crime or a misdemeanor? And is it really perjury if you believe it?

    “High crimes …” don’ really have anything to do with “regular” crimes. It’s not important if something is a normal crime. He could defraud someone and it wouldn’t be grounds for impeachment as long as it wasn’t the state.

    On the other hand, as long as it is a blatant abuse of the powers of the office – like firing the head of the FBI to help a crony – it could be perfectly legal and could still justify impeachment.

    Impeachment is a safeguard against abuses of power in a quasi-monarchical system, not a part of the criminal justice system.

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  9. The Q says:

    What if Comey taped his discussions with Trump? How hard would it be for the FBI Director to get a small concealed recording device? Lordly, that could fry Trump.

    Does anyone think Comey who is a pretty sharp would rely on his uncorroraberated notes to substantiate a he said/she said conversation? I think his zeal for Trump to release any tapes is he has his own and will wait to leak them after Trump lies about what was said.

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  10. James Pearce says:

    @The Q:

    What if Comey taped his discussions with Trump?

    Honestly…..I’m about 50-50 on whether that’s what Trump was implying with his “tapes” tweet, that he suspected Comey was taping the conversation. It would fit his paranoid, conspiratorial world-view (of course, the FBI director would have pockets full of recording devices!) and the whole “better hope” phrasing seemed like an implied threat.

    Not “better hope I don’t have tapes” but rather “better hope you don’t have tapes because I’ll sue the pants off you if you do.”

    Maybe Trump was worried the tapes were going to leak, not Comey’s memos?

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  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Oh please. Please please please testify. It’s the right thing to do, Donald :-)

    ReplyReply

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  12. Joe says:

    I think the tapes showdown could be pretty interesting. One of three things is true: (a) there are tapes that show that Comey is lying or misinterpreting the conversation; (b) there are tapes that show that Comey is dead on correct; or (c) there are no tapes. I would bet good money against (a), but life is a surprising place. It’s almost certainly (b) or (c) and, in either case, Trump is fwcked, either because Congress calls his bluff (which would be yuuuge to Trump and make him look like a fool to his own base) or there are tapes and they prove Comey’s story. Unlike voters, Congress is unlikely to let this go. They are going to insist on an answer, even the Republicans.

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  13. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    He said he was “100% willing” to do so. We should insist that he does.

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  14. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    I think that we’ll see the moon turn blue first. The last thing that any competent attorney would ever allow is for Trump to testify or be deposed under oath, and while Kasowitz is unbelievably slimy, even he isn’t that stupid.

    He’s way, way, way out of his depth now, and in over his head, but even he knows enough to shut Trump up / shut Trump down when there’s swearing an oath involved.

    Our best strategy at this point in that regard is goading him into doing it anyway against the advice of his attorneys. Luckily, that isn’t difficult.

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  15. Slugger says:

    Maybe Trump thinks that Trey Gowdy will be the interrogator if he testifies. The grilling of Hillary showed that Trey could not get a chicken eating admission out of Col. Sanders.

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  16. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Oh, I’m operating on the assumption that he’ll ignore all sound advice to keep his big, stupid, unpleasantly anal-sphincter-looking mouth shut and will insist on doing this. He’s moronic enough to think that this will be a mega-version of Celebrity Apprentice, in which he gets to demonstrate what a hero he is.

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  17. Pch101 says:

    “I did not have political relations with that Russian!”

    ReplyReply

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  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    From your lips to G-d’s ear, pal. I’ll drink to that one. :-)

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    As much as I would like for there to be tapes, I think it is pretty unlikely. Trump would have had to order them installed, because no other president since Nixon would have been that stupid. Who would he have asked? The secret service? The property manager for the White House ((who he just fired)? Some people have said that he has taped things on his phone before but a) I have trouble believing this very stupid old man could actually make that work on his 6 year old Samsung and b) he would have erased them by now. No one is going to be able to get their hands on Trump’s phone through subpoena before he had a chance to erase it.

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  20. Liberal Capitalist says:

    A mistake ?

    You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.

    I think you mean to say: “Trump Says He’d Testify Under Oath About Comey And Russia, That Would Be A W E S O M E !!!”

    My name is Nancy Pelosi. You killed my democracy. Prepare to die be impeached.

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  21. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Ninety per cent of the time, when Trump starts a sentence he has no idea how he’ll end it. When he says things like this he’s just living in the moment, and I’m willing to bet that the next morning he’ll have no clear memory of what he said, except that he faced down the “losers” and “liars”.

    We are front-row-seat witnesses of the man’s brain turning to porridge on an hourly basis.

    Remember: Tillerson is finally doing his job and trying to get Saudi Arabia and UAE to lay off Qatar – where we have A FUCKING AIR FIELD with a FEW THOUSAND AMERICANS in residence – and Trump is now claiming the whole gang-up on Qatar had his blessing as far back as his visit to SA.

    He is in the grip of worsening dementia.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  22. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: Exactly! This is the latest incarnation of the promise to build a wall to protect us from those Islamic Terrorists [TM] living in Mexico and waiting for their chance to kill us in our sleep.

    ReplyReply

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  23. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    We would have Republicans excusing the Presidential Perjury by explaining that he’s new at this, and he doesn’t know any better, and it’s all fine.

    What I’d be looking forward to is when they go on the talk shows to explain how Clinton lying about Lewinsky was an impeachable offense but Trump lying about Russia isn’t.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:

    The mere use of the word ‘deliquescing’ alone would be worth an up-vote. Combining it with ‘yam’ is especially felicitous.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  25. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That’s why I get the big bucks. 😀

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. CSK says:

    It’s being reported that Comey is being offered a $10 million book deal. That’ll make Trump grind his molars.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Bob@Younsgtown says:

    Republicans have questioned why Comey didn’t scold Trump when Trump (allegedly) said ‘back off of Flynn’.
    My question is this: Did Comey have any obligation to admonish Trump?
    (I suggest that Comey had no obligation to save Trump from himself.)

    That question has additional significance if you believe (as Comey stated) that at a PRIOR meeting (the dinner meeting) Comey had discussed with the barriers that must exist between the FBI and the executive office. If true, Comey had schooled the President previously, and yet Trump wanted to breach that “chinese wall” regardless of the consequences.

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  28. eric78 says:

    Honestly, I think this a classic Trump move. Claim you have the “evidence” then delay, delay, and delay. My guess is in a couple of weeks he will makeup some excuse why he can’t and on and on. Just like his taxes, his birther claims, popular vote claims, etc.

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  29. Bob@Younsgtown says:

    @eric78:
    He thinks he his still in a reality TV show, “keep em in suspense”… wait to the end of the episode for the big “reveal”

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. Facebones says:

    This here is why all the top law firms declined to represent Trump. He can’t keep his fool mouth shut for five minutes before saying something destructive to the legal strategy.

    No semi competent lawyer would suggest he testify under oath. Yet here he is, insisting that he’s going to do just that. His lawyers are arguing that his Muslim ban isn’t really a ban, and he starts tweeting “IT’S A BAN!!!!!”

    Add in the fact that he stiffs everyone he owes money, and he’s a nightmare client. It’s amazing he found anyone willing to represent him.

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  31. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Here’s an article over at TPM commenting on the Talking Yam’s present lawyers.

    I’m reminded of the comment made by Rod Blagojevich’s first lawyer, after he was fired from Rod’s corruption trial: “I don’t insist that my clients TAKE my advice. I do, however, think that they should at least LISTEN to my advice!”

    ReplyReply

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  32. KM says:

    @Facebones:
    For some, notoriety and ego outweigh all that. They think they’re clever enough to get around a self-sabotaging client and care more about getting their name out there then the paycheck. Thankfully these types are incompetent as hell so he’s welcome to them.

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  33. Tony W says:

    “Comey is a leaker” – Trump

    ReplyReply

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  34. grumpy realist says:

    Has anyone ever seen a needier POTUS?

    ReplyReply

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