State Politics

Risch: Comey should have pushed for clarity when Trump said he ‘hoped’ for end of Russian probe

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch says former FBI Director James Comey should have challenged President Trump on what the president meant when he said he “hoped” Comey would drop a probe into the administration’s Russian contacts.

Interviewed following Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee testimony Thursday, Risch said Comey’s failure to follow up with the president left matters open to interpretation. Risch, as a member of the committee, questioned the former director.

If a superior “had sat me down ... and said to me, ‘Well I hope’ or ‘I ask’ or ‘I request,’ I’d have said, ‘Well, exactly what are you asking of me?’” Risch said. “If I determined that the person was inappropriately trying to order me to do something, I’d have been screaming bloody murder and gotten somebody else in to prosecute them.”

During the hearing, Risch pressed Comey on whether the president was merely expressing a desire for Comey to end the probe of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Russian contacts. Comey said he took the president’s comment as “a direction.”

In his written testimony, Comey quoted the president telling him, at a Feb. 14 one-to-one meeting: “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.”

“He did not direct you to let it go?” Risch asked Comey.

“Not in his words, no,” Comey replied

Risch: “He did not order you to let it go?”

Comey: “Again, those words were not an order.”

Risch then asked Comey: “Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice, or for that matter any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?”

Comey replied: “I took it as a direction. This is the President of the United States with me alone saying, ‘I hope this’. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that but that’s the way I took it.”

“You may have taken it as a direction but that’s not what he said,” Risch pressed. Comey said yes.

“You don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something. Is that a fair statement?” Risch said.

“I don’t as I sit here,” Comey replied.

Risch said later that Comey also could have said to the president: “‘If you’re ordering me to do this, I will do this, but I’m going to tell everybody that you ordered me to do it.’”

“There are a number of ways that he could have gone about it,” Risch said. “And since he didn’t, all we have are the bare words where the president said, ‘I hope.’ Well, saying you hope something happens isn’t actionable in any court of law that I know of.”

Risch called Thursday’s proceedings “incredibly therapeutic for the American people.” He said Comey “is an incredibly honest and good person” who “answered every question to the best of his ability.”

As to where the investigation would go from here, Risch said Comey’s testimony would figure into the committee’s eventual report on Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. election.

“The very first thing is putting to rest the issue of whether president was under investigation, and Comey said he was not,” Risch said. “The next thing would be whether or not there was any collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and you heard Mr. Comey say there was not, and my Democratic colleagues say they haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.”

He added: “And certainly there’ll be an absolute conclusion that the Russians attempted through active measures to influence our election. I think also the conclusion is going to be pretty clear that they were unsuccessful in that, but nonetheless they did attempt it.”

The full clip of Risch’s questions to Comey (about six minutes) is viewable here.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews