Trump doubles down on Comey testimony over Flynn investigation, loyalty pledge, and tapes of meetings
Developments on Day 141 of the Trump Administration:
Trump Repeats: Comey is a Liar
Trying to regain the political initiative after the damaging testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump says he will “100%” testify under oath in the investigation of links between his associates and Russian officials.
Trump also doubled down on his declaration that Comey — whom he has also called “crazy” and a “nut job” — is a liar.
On Thursday, Comey gave precise detail to the Senate Intelligence Committee of three meetings and six phone calls with Trump. These included Trump’s demand for personal loyalty, his obsession with whether or not he was a subject of the Russia inquiry, and his request to Comey to drop any further investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — a statement that could amount to obstruction of justice.
Trump first broke his Twitter silence of more than 24 hours with a Friday morning message:
Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017
Then, appearing alongside the visiting Romanian president in the White House Rose Garden, he said Comey was a “leaker” — a reference to the former FBI director’s decision to release summaries of his notes of the encounters with Trump, made after Trump threatened Comey with tapes of their discussions — and maintained, “Yesterday showed no collusion [with Russia], no obstruction.”
Trump again hinted that he had tapes of the talks with Comey, while declining to confirm their existence. He said he had never made a request over the Flynn investigation but “there’d be nothing wrong if I did say it”. And, on the demand for loyalty from Comey, he maintained — in a curious portrayal of the relationship between a President and his FBI Director — “I hardly know the man.”
He added, “I’m not going to ask him to pledge allegiance.”
But Trump’s revival of his threat of tapes — “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time” — immediately brought the prospect of further pressure on him. The ranking Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Conaway and Adam Schiff, soon announced they had written to White House counsel Don McGahn to requesting any recordings or memoranda about Trump’s conversations with Comey.
The legislators set a deadline of two weeks. They also said they had request copies of the memoranda and notes from Comey and from his friend, Columbia University professor Daniel Richman, who passed the summaries to media.
In his testimony on Thursday, Comey responded to Trump’s threat, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes. Release all the tapes — I’m good with it.”
One topic that Trump did not address in his Friday answers was the status of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Amid reports that the President is frustrated with the Attorney General, Comey hinted on Thursday that Sessions may be one of the subjects of the expanding Trump-Russia inquiry, notably over his meetings in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
The former FBI director later told Senators in closed session that Sessions may have had a third interaction with Kislyak. The revelation
is based in part on Russian-to-Russian intercepts which discussed the meeting, said “three sources familiar with the information”.
But the sources said it is possible the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, was exaggerating the extent of the encounter.
Trump Contradicts Secretary of State Over Saudi-Qatar Conflict
Donald Trump pointedly contradicts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic effort to ease the crisis between Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf state Qatar.
Earlier this week Saudi Arabia, followed by allies Bahrain and UAE and several other countries, broke relations with Qatar over issues such as cyber-warfare, propaganda, and Doha’s relationships with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Palestine’s Hamas.
On Friday, Tillerson — echoing languages of countries such as Kuwait and Turkey — called for “calm and thoughtful dialogue” to resolve tensions. But only an hour later, he was in the front row of the audience listening to Trump’s statement bolstering the Saudi denunciation of Qatar:
The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level. We have to stop the funding of terrorism.
He repeated, “No more funding….The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding — they have to end that funding — and its extremist ideology in terms of funding.”
Trump’s declaration, made in the White House Rose Garden alongside the visiting Romanian President, effectively overruled Tillerson.
The Secretary of State emphasized the economic, humanitarian, and military damage caused by the Saudi-led air and sea blockade of Qatar. He said families were being separated and children removed from school as Qataris forced to deal with food shortages.
“We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during this Holy Month of Ramadan, but they can be addressed immediately,” he said.
Tillerson also warned that the blockade is “hindering U.S. military action in the region, and the campaign against ISIS”.
The split is the second high-profile divergence between Trump and the State Department since Saudi Arabia cut links with Doha on Monday. Trump responded with a Twitter blast against Qatar for backing “extremism”, even as his diplomats were urging caution and an ease to reduce the tension between Riyadh and its Gulf neighbor.
House Passes Repeal of Wall Street Regulations
The House of Representatives votes to repeal the set of Wall Street regulations adopted by the Obama Administration after the 2008 financial crisis.
In a near party-line vote, the House approved the Financial Choice Act to scale back or eliminate many of the post-crisis banking rules in the Dodd-Frank Act.
“Dodd-Frank represents the greatest regulatory burden on our economy, more so than all the other Obama-era regulations combined,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, the primary author of the new legislation. “There is a better way: economic growth for all; bank bailouts for none.”
The Financial Choice Act repeals the Volcker Rule, which prevents government-insured banks from making risky bets with investments. It removes a requirement that retirement advisers put their clients’ interests ahead of their own, and it scales back the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate large banks and payday lenders.
Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, challenged the new measures:
It is bad for consumers, it is bad for investors, and it’s bad for the stability of the American economy — which is bad for all of us. People believe there should be more — not less — regulation of Wall Street. They’re worried about regulators being too weak and being too afraid to take on the big guys. Not about their being tough.
“The bill even specifically exempts payday and car title lenders — notorious for springing devastating debt traps for their already vulnerable customers — from any regulation,” added Yana Miles, senior legislative counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending.
The banking industry says that Dodd-Frank imposes onerous regulations on small banks. The Senate is working on a separate bill that is more focused on loosening regulations on the community banks, and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellin has endorsed efforts to “mitigate the regulatory burden”.
Former Representative Barney Frank, co-author of Dodd-Frank, agrees on the need for reform, such as easing of the restrictions on smaller banks and raising the threshold on banks “too big to fail”: “Anytime you pass a very complicated piece of legislation, you don’t get everything 100 percent right the first time.”
But Frank cautions: “Beyond that what you have are Republicans — including the chairman of the committee, Mr. Hensarling, who is a very honorable, very pleasant, deeply rigidly ideological conservative who is essentially against any regulation.”
Democratic opposition in the Senate is likely to block passage of an unamended Finanical Choice Act. The bill needs 60 of the 100 Senators to pass, but the GOP only has a 52-48 majority of seats.
But Donald Trump was effusive on Twitter:
Congratulations to Jeb Hensarling & Republicans on successful House vote to repeal major parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. GROWTH!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017