State Democrats Hope Comey Testimony is Turning Point
Connecticut Democrats hope fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday will be an inflection point in the Russia investigation that has largely dominated the first five months of Donald Trump's presidency.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are not members of the committee, but all of Washington, and the rest of the political world, is expected to be intently watching. The four major television networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — are planning to carry the hearing live, and Washington bars and restaurants are opening up early and offering drink specials for the occasion.
Comey is expected to be questioned about conversations he had with Trump, including a request that the FBI shut down a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn. Flynn, a former campaign aide who was named Trump's national security adviser, has been accused of being in contact with Russian agents who sought to meddle with the presidential election.
"This testimony will be pivotal," Blumenthal said. "It will be a turning point because he will confirm evidence that indicates a possibly ongoing crime — or he could dispel it. But the likelihood is there will be additional evidence emerging from his testimony."
Rep. Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee — which is conducting its own investigation — was less optimistic, and said he doubted Comey's testimony would change the minds of many of Trump's Republican supporters.
"Sadly I don't think it will," he said. "I think on the contrary, and I say this with great sadness, many of my Republican colleagues and the White House are about to unleash the hounds of hell on Jim Comey. They're going to take a guy who is controversial, but whose integrity was never questioned, and drag him through the mud."
Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University, said Comey's testimony is believed to be just the sixth time networks chose to carry a congressional hearing in its entirety, something in and of itself that has added to the hype. The other five were the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, Watergate in 1973, Iran-Contra in 1987, Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court in 1991 and the Clinton impeachment in 1998.
"No one knows that Comey is going to say, so this adds to the drama, which the networks hope will add to the ratings," Hanley said.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday, Murphy said he was approaching Thursday's testimony with low expectations and expected Comey to "make a little bit of news" but to remain cautious in what he said "given the potential scope" of the Russia investigation.
Murphy said lawmakers need to be careful not to let the Russia investigation dominate all other legislative business. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said, at least at the committee level, Republicans and Democrats have been able to cooperate on some bills.
Comey to testify Trump told him 'I expect loyalty,' according to prepared remarks
"There are areas where things are getting done," she said. Esty was the lead Democrat on a bill to overhaul the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs which passed the House unanimously.
But Esty also acknowledged the intense interest in what Comey has to say.
"The American people need to know the facts," she said.
Gary Rose, professor and chair of the department of government, politics and global studies at Sacred Heart University, said there might not be much new information gleaned from the hearing, but its certain to escalate tensions between Democrats and Republicans over whether or not Trump or his associates acted improperly during the campaign and whether or not the president tried to suppress any investigation.
"The spin that is going to be put on it by the two parties is going to further intensify the current atmosphere involving this whole election," he said.
According to a Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday, 31 percent of voters say Trump did something illegal in his relationship with Russia while another 29 percent say he did something unethical. The survey found 32 percent of voters feel President Trump did nothing wrong.
When it comes to Trump's campaign advisers, 40 percent of voters said they believe the advisers did something illegal, 24 percent say they believe the advisers did something unethical but not illegal and 24 percent said they believe the advisers did nothing wrong.
The poll also found Trump's approval rating had hit a new low — 34 percent.
"There is zero good news for President Donald Trump in this survey, just a continual slide into a chasm of doubt about his policies and his very fitness to serve," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a written statement. "If this were a prize fight, some in his corner might be thinking about throwing in the towel. This is counter puncher Donald Trump's pivotal moment to get up off the mat."