Reading the statement Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz released in response to James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, much of it is what you’d expect. He gloats about Comey’s verification that the president was not the target of an FBI counterintelligence investigation. And he disputes Comey’s account of two key interactions between the FBI director and the president (the “loyalty pledge” request and the expression of “hope” that the FBI could find a way to leave poor Michael Flynn alone). It seems clear that Team Trump does not believe it can count on charitable interpretations of Comey’s account to shield the president from obstruction of justice accusations. So they are challenging the underlying statement of facts.
But then Kasowitz goes on to dwell at considerable length on an item of testimony that did not seem that central at the time: Comey’s decision after Trump fired him to leak via “associates” his personal notes on his meetings with the president — the meetings he is now discussing publicly in great detail. Kasowitz describes the leak in the language of an indictment: “Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president.”
If “privileged” here refers to information protected by “executive privilege,” that’s strange, since the White House chose not to assert executive privilege to block Comey’s testimony, principally because the president had already run his mouth about the topics in question.
Kasowitz goes on to suggest that the authorities should look into Comey’s leak, presumably to see if laws were broken, even though no one up until now has suggested that as a private citizen (which is what he was at the time) he could not give his personal notes to the press or anyone else.
What he seems to be doing most of all is to lump in Comey with all the other “leakers” that the White House has been complaining about as the main national security threat to the United States throughout the Russian investigation. Indeed, the statement ends with this bit of pointed — if poorly copyedited — snark:
In sum, it is now established that there [sic] the president was not being investigated for colluding with the [sic] or attempting to obstruct that investigation. As the Committee pointed out today, these important facts for the country to know are virtually the only facts that have not leaked during the long course of these events.
It sure sounds like Kasowitz is hinting at a “deep state” conspiracy theory, whereby bureaucrats, intelligence agency figures, and other federal personnel who are loyal to Barack Obama or simply hostile to Trump’s “swamp-draining” project are trying to reverse the 2016 election results. Indeed, the release of the Comey memo about the Trump meetings occasioned a large burst of deep state speculation from Trump defenders like Alex Jones:
The anti-Trump media immediately ran with hysterical headlines accusing Trump of obstructing justice, with several news anchors and columnists calling for his impeachment.
Amid all the frenzy however, CNN’s Dana Bash let slip the truth — that the memo is just the latest volley in the Hillary-aligned deep state’s revenge campaign against President Trump.
And just today, Breitbart’s coverage of the Comey testimony hits the same note, with a headline reading: “Deep State Gone Wild: Comey Asserts Unprecedented FBI Supremacy.”
So is this where Team Trump is headed next, a counteroffensive against Comey and his allies that seeks to undermine their credibility by making them out to be agents of the ancien régime? Most of us would probably have a hard time thinking of James Comey as an agent of Hillary Clinton, but then again, it’s gospel in Trumpland that he shielded her from prison by usurping the attorney general’s right to decide whether she should be prosecuted.
Like Kasowitz’s attack on the credibility of Comey’s accounts of the meetings with Trump, this could be a perilous strategy. Yes, it will resonate with hard-core Trump supporters. But elsewhere it is problematic. “Revered” is probably not too strong a word for Comey’s standing among current and former FBI agents, and he’s deeply respected throughout the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Going after him this personally may be the best way for right-wing claims of deep state hostility to become self-fulfilling.