Right now, everyone is spellbound over the public testimony former FBI Director James Comey is giving on Capitol Hill before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In advance, over at the LawFare blog, Benjamin Wittes reposts and dissects the former director’s seven-page written testimony. A Comey fan and friendly acquaintance who respects and has written about some of his recent interactions with Comey, Wittes is a source of some of the most substantive analysis of how the Trump-versus-Comey dispute plays here.
Here’s his three takeaways:
First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.
The second point is that the Trump administration is about to go against Comey through a full-court attack.
Wittes’ third point is his wish that the Comey testimony before the Intelligence Committee — and the dialogue in the press and in society — be conducted in a non-partisan fashion.