Senator James E Risch (R-ID) began his questioning of Comey with an odd and somewhat charming string of compliments about Comey’s writing, which he described as clear and accurate.
Risch had a bigger plan.
He zeroed in on Comey’s written description of his conversation with Trump in the Oval Office where the subject of the FBI investigation into Flynn came up.
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.”
Risch, after thanking Comey for memorializing the exact words, focused on the word “hope.”
“He did not direct you to let it go?” Risch asked. “He did not order you to let it go? He said ‘I hope’?”
Risch made clear that, in his view, the president was just “hoping” Comey would drop the Flynn case and that doesn’t qualify as obstruction of justice.
But Risch’s view, as Comey points out, ignores the setting and context of the conversation. Comey was speaking to the President of the United States, in the Oval Office, after the president had cleared the room of all other parties. Comey explained that he took the president’s comments “as a direction” to end the Flynn investigation.
Obstruction of justice is defined as any “interference with the orderly administration of law and justice.” It does not require a direct order to end an investigation. Most people who commit obstruction of justice are not President of the United States and don’t have the ability to personally direct the FBI director to end an investigation.
Meanwhile, Trump loyalists, including his son, are starting to run with this “defense.”
Hoping and telling are two very different things, you would think that a guy like Comey would know that. #givemeabreak
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 8, 2017
Risch’s interpretation suffers from another problem as well. After Comey refused to end the investigation into Flynn and Russia, he was fired. Trump said publicly (and privately to Russian officials) that he fired Comey to relieve the pressure of the Russia investigation.