Eight concerned citizens, one large dog and I gathered at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland at 7 this morning to drink complimentary Bloody Marys and watch former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, addressing the cause of his firing and allegations that the Trump administration is colluding with Russia.
Despite the hour, we all woke up at Comey’s declaration that the President-elect flat-out lied about Comey undermining the FBI’s morale. Comey asserted that the Trump “administration chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.”
“Those were lies plain and simple,” Comey said, “and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I am so sorry that the American people were told them.”
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, took a particular interest in this statement, posting during the hearing that Comey was pointing the finger in the wrong direction by addressing the “Trump administration” rather than Trump himself.
“If we’ve learned anything during these harrowing four and a half months, it’s that Donald Trump is the malignant source of the defamations, distortions, attacks, and lies that have rocked America,” Reich wrote in the morning Facebook post. “To the extent anyone else is implicated, they’re guilty of blind loyalty or ruthless ambition. History will judge them harshly for not standing up to him…. We must not allow him to hide behind the ‘Trump administration.’”
But Comey didn’t let The Donald get off that easy. In Comey’s testimony, he includes accounts of every interaction he has ever had with the President. Why did he record all of these? Not just because of the circumstances and subject matter, but because of the nature of Trump; Comey admitted that he was concerned about the president lying. He also mentioned that he met twice with former president Barack Obama and once with former president George W. Bush about a national security matter—and never felt it necessary to document their meetings.
All of the referenced Trump conversations are included in Comey’s written testimony—one which was praised during the hearing by Sen. James Risch (R. Idaho) for how well it was constructed. And arguably, for good reason.
Comey’s story of his encounters with Trump unraveled like a $5 mystery thriller you’d pick up at a grocery store—there’s not a lot of flourish in the language—but the little details kept theater patrons on the edge of their seats. Like how Trump invited Comey for a disconcerting one-on-one dinner date, sat him at a tiny oval table in the center of the White House Green Room, and kept saying things to Comey like, “I need loyalty,” “I expect loyalty,” and “That’s what I want, honest loyalty”—all of which were followed by long, “awkward” and seemingly sinister pauses … pauses that might send a chill down a weaker man’s spine. Comey also made note of specific details that really brought the audience into each scene—like Trump’s unsettling “cloud” that needs to be “lifted” so he can act “on behalf of the country.” He also made multiple mentions of a potentially menacing grandfather clock by the Oval Office door. (A bad omen?)
Sen. Risch brought up the Valentine’s Day Oval Office meeting that Comey wrote about, when Trump appeared to urge Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. “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,” said the President, according to the former FBI director.
Responding to this account, Risch said: “Has anyone been charged with obstruction of justice for the word hope? … You don’t know anyone who has been charged for hoping something?”
Several senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D. Calif.), asked about Comey’s decision to record the conversations rather than challenge the President.
“Why didn’t you stop and say, ‘Mr. President, this is wrong, I should not discuss this with you?’” Feinstein asked, to which Comey admitted that he could have been stronger, but he still felt that “no action was best.”
He later said in the hearing that he was not pretending to be “Captain Courageous,” and his only thought when interacting with the president was, “Be careful what you say.”
From there, most of the questions were repetitive and largely predictable until Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.) compared the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server to the investigation on Russian interference, wondering why one was closed and the other was still open.
“With respect to Secretary Clinton—I—I’m not… I’m a little confused,” Comey said—a reply that was followed by two New Parkway theater-goers shouting together, “We all are!”
“I think this is the official start to impeachment season…. But we should be careful what we wish for. [Vice President] Mike Pence will be a dependable conservative,” said Cal grad and New Parkway Theater founder, J Moses Ceaser.
“So both President Trump and former candidate Clinton are both involved in the investigation, yet one of them you said there’s going to be no charges and the other one that the investigation continues,” McCain said. “Well, I think there’s a double standard there to tell you the truth.”
Another theater patron, watching McCain fumbling, shouted at TV screen, “I think they’re drinking Bloody Marys over there!”
At the end of the hearing, when we were all left delirious from three hours of back and forth, the general consensus among theater-goers was that it was better to watch the hearing in a group setting.
“I really didn’t need to see all of these politicians’ faces up close and personal,” said attorney Mira Chernick, gesturing toward the massive theater screen, but she said it was nice to bond with other people over the confusion and frustration surrounding Comey and the Russian investigation. “I think Comey did a good job of demonstrating nonpartisanship for the whole process, pushing the message through that they need to protect the FBI and the investigation.”
J. Moses Ceaser, Cal grad and founder of The New Parkway Theater, said that he chose to hold the free event this morning because it’s important to get the Comey hearing out to the world and provide a place for people to watch it. The theater has also hosted other political events in the past, including the 2016 debates.
“I think this is the official start to impeachment season…. But we should be careful what we wish for. [Vice President] Mike Pence will be a dependable conservative,” said Ceaser, adding that if Pence were already in power, Republicans would have already been able “to railroad through” and make changes in government that many Americans wouldn’t like
He also said that the Republicans’ hassling of Comey on Trump’s use of the word hope makes him think of The Godfather.
“If Don Corleone ever said he ‘hoped’ something would happen, you’d know there’d be ramifications for not doing it,” Ceaser said. “I don’t necessarily think death is on the table, but who knows?”