The Russia Connection

Did Comey “Grandstand” or "Politicize" the Russia Investigation?

By Jack Goldsmith
Saturday, May 20, 2017, 12:09 PM

As is well known, President Trump told his Russian friends in the Oval Office: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.  He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That’s taken off.”  Yesterday afternoon, Sean Spicer tried to explain away the President's comments as follows: “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.” 

Did Comey grandstand and politicize the investigation?

During a January 10 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Comey specifically declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI was investigating relationships between Trump associates and Russia.

Comey first confirmed the existence of the Russia investigation during the March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Russia investigation that he was invited to attend.  He said:

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.  As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

So the Department of Justice authorized Comey to say this.  When asked to say more in the hearing, Comey declined.   For example, when pressed for details by Representative Hines, Comey stated: “Well all I can tell you is what we're investigating which includes whether there was any coordination between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russians.”  Exchanges like this with Representative Sewell were also typical:

SEWELL:  So, with respect to the coordination, Director Comey, I just wanted to continue this line of questioning, can you say with any specificity what kinds of coordination or contacts you're looking at in your investigation generally when confronted with something like this?

COMEY: I can't.

SEWELL: Can you discuss whether or not there was any knowledge by any Trump- related person and the Russians?

COMEY: I can't.

So in the March 20 hearing, Comey reported what the Justice Department had authorized him to report about the Russia investigation, and said no more.  Comey also appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee addressed on May 3, where he confirmed that the investigation was ongoing but said nothing more. 

In short, the only thing Comey ever said publicly about the investigation into the Russia-DNC Hack-Trump Associates imbroglio was to confirm, with the approval of the Justice Department, its existence.

To “grandstand” is to “play or act so as to impress onlookers.”   To “politicize” means to give something a “political tone or character.”   Comey was neither grandstanding nor politicizing.  He was doing his job and following the direction of the Justice Department. 

Spicer may or may not have been grandstanding, but he was definitely politicizing the situation.  In offering the American public a preposterous explanation for Trump's behavior, Spicer was also either lying or recklessly bloviating in an effort to spin the President’s shameful actions.