Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with President Donald Trump and the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election lasted more than two-and-a-half hours Thursday.
But the hearing was largely defined by what was left unsaid.
The testimony featured several jaw-dropping moments — like Comey coolly explaining why he thought the president of the United States couldn’t be trusted — but those who tuned in hoping for a bombshell that could lead directly to Trump’s impeachment walked away disappointed. Similarly, there were no new revelations about the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Comey repeatedly declined to answer the committee’s most substantial questions, saying he could not disclose classified or sensitive information in an “open setting.” The public hearing was immediately followed by one that took place behind closed doors in a secure room, where some of the juicy details that Comey withheld were likely discussed.
That information will remain classified for the time being. Until that changes — or until a new torrent of leaks begins — here are some of the biggest unanswered questions:
What did the FBI find out about the infamous Russian dossier?
The document, compiled by a former British intelligence officer, contains explosive allegations about Trump’s relationship with Russia, including the rumored existence of a video — the so-called “pee tape” — that could potentially be used for blackmail. The dossier was the subject of Comey’s first one-on-one meeting with Trump, an encounter the ex-FBI director described in vivid detail in his written testimony.
Sen. Angus King brought up the dossier on Thursday, asking Comey if it is “being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way.”
Comey replied, “I obviously can’t comment either way,” and said it’s up to special counsel Bob Mueller — Comey’s predecessor as FBI director — to provide answers. In addition to the supposed tape, the dossier contains other potentially damning allegations. If the FBI knows the dossier is bullshit, why haven’t they said so? And if some of it’s true, could it sink Trump’s presidency?
Did Trump really tape his conversations with Comey?
As things currently stand, it’s essentially Comey’s word versus Trump’s about what happened during their one-on-one discussions. Comey says he took detailed notes immediately after each of the conversations, while Trump suggested on Twitter days after he fired Comey that he may have secretly recorded their conversations.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said Thursday, adding that he would like the recordings to be made public to corroborate his account.
After the hearing, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters she has “no idea” whether the president is taping conversations in the West Wing. She then offered to “look under the couches” for hidden recording equipment. If the tapes do exist, why hasn’t Trump released them? Would the audio evidence vindicate Comey or bolster the president’s case that he did nothing wrong? And if the tapes aren’t actually real, was Trump trying to bluff Comey into keeping quiet?
Does the FBI have evidence that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia?
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Cotton, a staunch Republican and Trump ally, pointedly asked Comey a version of this question toward the end of Thursday’s hearing: “Do you think Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”
The response probably wasn’t what Cotton wanted to hear: “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting.”
While that’s neither a confirmation nor a denial of anything, it would seem to indicate that Comey’s answer to the question may be more complicated than a simple, “No.” Comey added, “That’s a question that will be answered by the investigation.” In other words, stay tuned for more details.
What’s up with the Russian bank VEB?
One of Comey’s most conspicuous non-answers concerned a Russian financial institution. Comey was asked by King, “What do you know about the Russian bank VEB?” His response: “Nothing that I can talk about in an open setting.”
The bank is closely linked to the Russian government, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that it financed a Trump hotel deal in Canada. The bank’s CEO, a Putin ally, also met with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, during the presidential transition. And that’s not all: A banker who worked at VEB’s office in New York pleaded guilty to spying for Russia and tried to recruit former Trump adviser Carter Page to work for Moscow.
It seems Comey is privy to more details about VEB. Will that information come to light any time soon?
How screwed is Mike Flynn — and what does that mean for Trump?
Flynn’s name was uttered 63 times during Thursday’s hearing. Comey says Trump pressured him to close the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser before he was forced to resign after reports surfaced that he had made misleading statements about his conversations and meetings with Russian officials.
There was debate Thursday about whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to interfere with the Flynn probe. Questions from several Republican senators centered around whether Comey had misinterpreted Trump’s remarks about Flynn during a one-on-one conversation. According to Comey, the president said privately of Flynn and the FBI’s probe, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Others asked why Comey didn’t cut Trump off and refuse to discuss the ongoing investigation with him.
The investigation into Flynn remains ongoing, however, and the probe could lead to more dirt being exposed. And the worse it gets for Flynn, the worse it gets for Trump. As Comey noted Thursday, “In any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation that are criminal in nature.”