NBC: No ‘Smoking Gun’ From Comey, But ‘Horrendous Day’ for Trump

During an NBC News special report immediately following James Comey’s congressional testimony on Thursday, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd admitted that there was no “smoking gun” in any of the statements from the former FBI director, but still insisted that it was a “horrendous day” for the Trump administration.

Following two and a half hours of live hearing coverage, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt hyped the event as “the most-anticipated hearing we have seen in years” that was “dramatic and riveting.” Today co-host Savannah Guthrie agreed: “It was. I mean, let’s not forget the large point here. Here you have a former FBI director who called the sitting President of the United States a liar on more than one occasion....He said that he thought that the President had defamed him...”

Despite all the breathless hyperbole, Holt acknowledged that Comey “demurred on the question of whether this might be obstruction of justice and said that should be up to the special counsel.”

Joining the conversation, Todd explained:

Look, I think James Comey painted a picture of a president committing bad behavior, unethical behavior, politically damaging to the institution, but he did not paint a easy picture, probably, on the obstruction of justice charge....Comey was very careful not to allege that. He walked up to the line. He is giving Robert Mueller the opportunity to see if that, indeed, ends up being the case, but he stopped short there.

He then concluded: “So if you’re a Democrat looking for the smoking gun behind motive, you didn’t get it. If you’re a Republican, I think you’ve got specific things you can feel as if you can defend the President on.”

Even so, Todd proclaimed: “But atmospherically, big picture, this is still a horrendous day for this presidency.”

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On the issue of Comey not accusing Trump of obstruction of justice, Guthrie argued it didn’t matter:

You know, it was never going to be Comey’s job to say, “I believe a crime has been committed, it’s obstruction of justice.” That was not his role today. His role was to describe the conduct. And he made clear he believes it’s up to somebody else, the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, to the determine if the facts he alleges today amount to obstruction of justice.

She later seemed to suggest that the legal question was irrelevant: “...ultimately this is a political question....the Justice Department says you cannot indict a sitting president. So as long as that guidance stands, it isn't going to be a criminal matter. The question is, of course, to the political branches, and what the Congress decides to do.”

On Wednesday, her fellow Today co-host Matt Lauer desperately tried to spin that even if the President wasn’t actually guilty of obstruction of justice, he may still be guilty of the “emotional definition” of the crime.

Here is a full transcript of the June 8 exchange:

12:42 PM ET

LESTER HOLT: After two and a half hours, James Comey now leaving the hearing room here in Washington. For the last two and a half hours this city has certainly stood still, as had a lot of America. The most-anticipated hearing we have seen in years. James Comey, the fired FBI director, delivering many ways on a hearing that many people thought would be dramatic and riveting. And Savannah Guthrie with me, it was just that.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: It was. I mean, let’s not forget the large point here. Here you have a former FBI director who called the sitting President of the United States a liar on more than one occasion. He said that the reason he kept memos of the conversations he had with President Trump was because he feared that the President would lie about them. He said that he thought that the President had defamed him, that the administration had defamed Director Comey. And he said that he felt that the President had, in fact, directed him to stop the Flynn investigation. But this is important as well, when asked specifically, “Do you think that the President was telling you to stop the Russia investigation in general?” Director Comey said, “No.”

HOLT: He also demurred on the question of whether this might be obstruction of justice and said that should be up to the special counsel. He left it out there. He also said he took the President at his word as to why he was fired, referencing my conversation with the President from the 11th. The President said, “I decided just to do it. I said to myself, I said, you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” He ran with that, he says he now believes the Russian thing was the reason that the President fired him.

GUTHRIE: Let’s bring in Chuck Todd, who of course is moderator of Meet the Press. Chuck, what are your take-aways?

CHUCK TODD: Remember what this hearing was about. And I think that we sort of have to clear the brush because there’s a lot of conflation here. This was about the motive behind the President’s decision to fire Jim Comey. This is not about the Russian investigation, this is not about whether or not the President’s campaign team is guilty or innocent. None of that is. And I think that if – some people may have tuned in wondering if they were going to be getting that information.

Look, I think James Comey painted a picture of a president committing bad behavior, unethical behavior, politically damaging to the institution, but he did not paint a easy picture, probably, on the obstruction of justice charge. Which was clearly the Republican effort on the committee, which was to try to essentially protect the President from the worst aspects of what this could have been – obstruction of justice or abuse of power. And it seemed as if they were very careful – and Comey was very careful not to allege that. He walked up to the line. He is giving Robert Mueller the opportunity to see if that, indeed, ends up being the case, but he stopped short there. So if you’re a Democrat looking for the smoking gun behind motive, you didn’t get it. If you’re a Republican, I think you’ve got specific things you can feel as if you can defend the President on. But atmospherically, big picture, this is still a horrendous day for this presidency.

HOLT: And remember, a lot of what he talked about was intuition, his feeling, the body language, how what the President said and an interpretation. I think one of the things that also struck me is you recall that the President said he better hope there are no tapes. That came up, and Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” and said they should be released.

GUTHRIE: Essentially he was saying bring it on. “Oh, there are tapes of our conversations?” Well, now we have the President and Comey saying, “Look, if there are tapes, let’s hear them, let’s air them out. I think it’s interesting. You know, it was never going to be Comey’s job to say, “I believe a crime has been committed, it’s obstruction of justice.” That was not his role today.
His role was to describe the conduct. And he made clear he believes it’s up to somebody else, the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, to the determine if the facts he alleges today amount to obstruction of justice.

TODD: And ultimately, and this is what I was thinking, we’re going to see another hearing when this is done, and this aspect of it. And Mueller’s going to present this evidence and it’s going to be a fascinating question he’s going to be asked: If this was a private citizen, could you bring a case of obstruction of justice? And how he answers that question, that will have a big influence on how Congress reacts.

GUTHRIE: It will, but ultimately this is a political question because there is – it always is, to Chuck, always –

TODD: People ask me, what is the standard for impeachment? It’s whatever Congress wants it to be.

GUTHRIE: That’s true, but –

TODD: Period.

GUTHRIE: Right. You’re the political guy, I’m the legal gal, okay? The point is, the Justice Department says you cannot indict a sitting president. So as long as that guidance stands, it isn't going to be a criminal matter. The question is, of course, to the political branches, and what the Congress decides to do.

(...)

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