Testimony (and Drinks) Flow in Washington

Comey’s Testimony on Trump Captivates Nation’s Capital

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony broadcast on every TV screen at the Union Pub. Photos by Jack O’Brien.

Washington, D.C. —

There are far worse things in the world than reporting from a bar at 9:30 in the morning.

While Former FBI Director James Comey sat in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, dozens sat in front of TV screens a few blocks away at Union Pub.

Drawn in by an early opening and the prospect of free rounds of drinks if President Donald Trump tweeted during the highly anticipated testimony, the bar filled to capacity for an informal political holiday known as #ComeyDay. Trump never did end up tweeting but that hardly diminished the excitement surrounding the event.

Ask anyone in the Beltway about anything and the conversation will somehow return to Comey’s testimony. Not since Leonardo DiCaprio’s generously handsome turn as J. Edgar Hoover in 2011 has the American public been so enamored with a former FBI director. Overhearing patrons as I worked my way through the bar to get quotes for an article, it became clear that most didn’t expect to be there on a Thursday morning.

It did not take long for a crowd to form for the early opening of Union Pub.

I arrived around 9:15 a.m. and quickly saw the small mob outside build to a swelling mass inside, with outdoor seating utilized for the stragglers. The place was engrossed with draft beers, vodka infused cocktails and the odd aroma of lunchtime food in mid-morning. Happy hour conversation was loud until the moment Comey’s lanky 6’ 5” frame emerged on-screen, causing the crowd to go silent.

For every word he had to offer: good, bad or otherwise, they were dedicated to hearing it. Outside of a third-grade classroom, I had never heard so much shushing in my life, let alone in a bar. This was not a crowd merely there to participate in the novelty sideshow of the political moment, they wanted to listen.

There was shock at the basic concept of what was happening: the former head of the FBI publicly testifying on what he and the president had talked about prior to his abrupt dismissal. Most at the bar hoped that Comey would strike down Trump in dramatic fashion on live television.

They, (including several Democratic senators), wanted to see a smoking gun, something to confirm the Russia-collusion narrative. It didn’t matter what that was: confirmation of the salacious ‘golden showers’ dossier from January, proof that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn conducted nefarious dealings with Ambassador Kislyak or simply a picture of Trump and Putin high-fiving as they burned ballot boxes in Wisconsin.

Within the first hour, it became clear Comey would not fulfill those political fantasies. It wasn’t a ‘nothing burger’ as some walking in had predicted, but it was certainly a fascinating insight regarding the dealings of a slapdash administration. Comey leveled concrete accusations of lying, defamation, intimidation and dysfunction above all else at the highest levels of government.

And yet while Comey came across as sympathetic to most at the bar and around the nation, it was hard to not find him at least partly responsible for the situation he found himself in. For every moment of overreach or broken protocol by Trump, whether in person or over the phone, Comey had a regret of some sort.

This isn’t to say that people can’t make mistakes, but Comey was the lead law enforcement agent in the country. Saying that he wasn’t strong enough to respond to the unwarranted demands of Trump or former Attorney General Loretta Lynch is simply inexcusable. When confronted with vague threats of termination, insinuations of a patronage position and solo meetings that result in requests for blunting an ongoing investigation, character is required.

What remains to be seen is where everything proceeds from here. I’ve had plenty of people reach out in the hopes that I can provide a timeline when one does not exist for this circumstance. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will conduct his investigation at his own pace, whether an announcement comes tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. It is clear from the testimony that Trump did not do anything explicitly illegal but it has to be assumed that there will be further evidence and testimony presented to Mueller behind closed doors.

The biggest lesson of the Comey testimony is that a controversial but respected former official has now proven a willingness to speak out on one of the most pressing political matters of our time. Considering the recent rumors that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had offered his resignation to Trump after demanding independence in his position, it’s fair to wonder what shoe will drop next.

Maybe Sessions does walk, or maybe Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein grows tired of being blamed for firings in the administration. Maybe the next stop in the Russia investigation is a self-inflicted move to contain a problem that might already be out of grasp.