Though James Comey, the former director of the FBI whose firing by President Donald Trump sparked political uproar this week, has reportedly declined an invitation to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors about his controversial ouster, he is reportedly willing to answer lawmakers' questions in open session if given the opportunity.
The New York Times on Saturday, citing a close associate of Comey, reports the former director "is willing to testify, but wants it to be in public."
Comey's version of events when it comes to meetings and conversations he had with Trump have now taken on new significance after the White House's shifting narrative on the reason for his firing was compounded by an interview the president gave to NBC News on Thursday and a subsequent tweet on Friday in which he appeared to publicly threaten Comey by teasing the existence of possible recordings of their interactions. "Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" the president stated.
In his interview with NBC, Trump told Lester Holt that Comey was in part fired because he was a "grandstander" and a "showboat." Such public insults, some political observers contend, could certainly come back to haunt Trump if Comey has a story to tell that diverges from Trump's or reveals new details about their discussions.
As Jason Easley, writing for Politicus USA on Saturday, notes:
Comey’s demand for a public hearing is one of the top reasons why it was foolish for Trump to personally attack and smear James Comey. Trump still thinks he is living in reality television tabloid land where attacking the man in charge of the federal investigation of his campaign for potential collusion with a hostile foreign power is the same as throwing insults at Cher and Rosie O’Donnnell.
Smearing the character of the former FBI Director is going to have consequences that will include Comey getting his day in front of the entire political world to tell his story under oath in front of a congressional committee.
With so many story lines to keep track of, the entire escapade has become a battle between reality, farce, obfuscation, and the determination of anyone hoping to establish facts and verifiable truths during the still-fledgling Trump presidency.
In yet another jaw-dropping exchange with Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday afternoon, the White House said they would have "nothing further to add" regarding the possible existence of tapes mentioned by the president in the tweet.
Whether any such 'tapes' exist—or recordings of any kind—is now the source of heated speculation and intrigue.
According to a Washington Post report on Friday evening, former associates who worked with Trump in the business world say that the president had a habit of secretly recording meetings and phone calls.
"There was never any sense with Donald of the phone being used for private conversation," John O’Donnell, who served as president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in the 1980s, told the post. Other executives who did dealings with Trump, the newspaper reports, "were taken aside by colleagues and warned to assume that their discussions with the boss were being recorded."
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Ken Hughes, a presidential historian with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, told the Los Angeles Times that if recordings of Trump's talk with Comey do exist, they would be vital in any ongoing or future inquiry.
"The first thing I asked is whether he realized that, if he does have tapes of his conversations with Comey, they’re evidence in any investigation of whether his firing of Comey amount to obstruction of justice," Hughes said during an interview with the Times.
Any recordings, Hughes added, would be "evidence related to a criminal investigation and therefore they can be subpoenaed, either by Congress, or by a prosecutor, or special prosecutor if one is appointed, and Trump has to turn them over, as the Supreme Court ruled way back in 1974."
And while Republican leaders in Congress continue to receive condemnation from constituents over their laissez faire attitude towards the controversy over the Trump-Comey affair, Democrats are agitating for more hearings on the matter, increasing their demand (also backed by the U.S. public) for a special prosecutor to initiate an independent probe, and making moves to compell the White House to preserve or hand over any relevant evidence, including any recordings that might exist.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Friday stated, "Mr. President, if there are 'tapes' relevant to the Comey firing, it's because you made them and they should be provided to Congress."
Lastly, though it remains a brewing question, the swirling doubt cast by Trump's troubling behavior is leading to more talk of impeachment by the day.
While progressives have been promoting the possibility of impeachment for weeks, an increasing number of establishment political observers appear willing to acknowledge that Trump's conduct is now pushing the presidential boundaries of acceptable behavior.
"I've been trying to avoid talking about impeachment of the president," wrote Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein on Friday, "but Thursday's events—in which the president almost bragged about obstructing justice in firing FBI Director James Comey—make it hard to avoid."
Bernstein reminds readers that impeachment is not about legal conduct versus permissible acts, but is a power that the legislative branch of government has in order to place a check on the executive branch.
"Impeachment of the president is always a political act, requiring political judgment," he writes. "That doesn't mean it must always be partisan... But it does mean that it's always more complicated than simply assessing whether a specific crime has been committed."
Adding some historical context, The Nation magazine's political correspondent John Nichols—who wrote the 2006 book, The Genius of Impeachment—put it this way in a tweet on Saturday morning:
Historic American Calculus:— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) May 13, 2017
Firing those leading investigations