Comey willing to testify – and insists it be in public

Ex-FBI Director James Comey declined an invitation to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. But according to a New York Times report, Comey is willing to testify but “wants it to be in public.”

  • The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is expected to brief the full Senate on the circumstances behind the Comey firing.
  • President Trump has warned Comey against leaking information against him, saying that the former FBI head “better hope” there are no ‘tapes’ of their conversations.
  • A source close to Comey: “He hopes there are tapes. That would be perfect.”

“That I can’t talk about. I won’t talk about it,” Trump said when asked about the tapes.  “All I want is for Comey to be honest.”

Recalling Comey’s 2007 testimony:

Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary on May 15th, 2007 – almost a decade ago. The testimony details a White House bent on defying the Justice Department.

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to brief the entire 100-member Senate next week on the firing of ex-FBI Director James Comey.

“We need to understand the true nature of the events that led to director Comey’s dismissal,” said Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Rosenstein the unlikely center in the Comey fallout:

Sessions called to brief, but will he appear?: Schumer is also requesting that AG Jeff Sessions brief the Senate on the matter, though that meeting has not been arranged.

The CEO of one of the nations leading health insurance companies told employees he is open to public debate over government-financed health care.

“Single-payer, I think we should have that debate as a nation,” said Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna

Bertolini made the remarks during a private meeting with Aetna employees, as first reported by Vox.

“We have to get people healthy. It’s not about who is paying the bill”:

His extended response indicates a consideration of a public-private partnership whereby the federal government would “contract out” private companies (like Aetna) for certain functions:

If the government wants to pay all the bills, and employers want to stop offering coverage, and we can be there in a public private partnership to do the work we do today with Medicare, and with Medicaid at every state level, we run the Medicaid programs for them, then let’s have that conversation, said Bertolini.

Aetna exited its last remaining Obamacare markets on Wednesday:

The insurer cited financial losses as the primary reason. Aetna will not be on the ACA’s health exchanges in 2018.

Bertolini referred to the ACA in his remarks:

“The government doesn’t administer anything. the first thing they’ve ever tried to administer in social programs was the ACA, and that didn’t go so well. So the industry has always been the back room for government.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions today ordered federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimums and maximum punishments for crime suspects.

“Smart on Crime” vs. “Tough on Crime”:

  • The memo from Sessions is a substantial break from Obama-era policy: the DOJ, under then-AG Eric Holder, sought to reduce the number of people receiving long sentences for low-level drug offenses.
  • Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative: introduced in 2013, the reform effort “directed prosecutors not to report the amount of drugs involved in an arrest if it would trigger mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders who had no ties to drug cartels or gangs and who did not sell to children,” writes Pete Williams of NBC News.
  • DOJ officials say it offered results: the number of federal drug prosecutions dropped under the initiative.
  • Sessions – then a Senator – opposed the initiative: though he did co-sponsor the “Fair Sentencing Act,” which looked to reduce the disparate penalty between crack and powder cocaine.

Eric Holder, Obama-era AG, scolds Sessions:

Holder labeled the new DOJ directive “dumb on crime,” “financially ruinous,” and an “unwise policy decision”:

“These reversals will be both substantively and financially ruinous, setting the Department back on a track to again spending one third of its budget on incarcerating people, rather than preventing, detecting, or investigating crime,” said Holder.

Should the new FBI director be promoted from inside the bureau, or should they be nominated from the outside (and face a contentious Senate)?

This is the dilemma facing the Trump administration: the fallout from the Comey firing continues along hyperpartisan lines, and the new bureau head will follow a director who managed to enrage both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has issued a surprise suggestion: Merrick Garland

Weighing the GOP case for Garland:

  • If Garland accepted the nomination – and its highly, highly unlikely he wouldhe would vacate a lifetime spot on the D.C. Circuit for Trump.
  • And of course, President Trump could fire FBI director Merrick Garland at any time.
  • Meanwhile, the lifetime seat Garland gave up would remain in GOP control.

Building a consensus candidate:

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) quickly credited Sen. Lee for a “good idea”:

She later noted that a Garland nomination “isn’t going to happen,” but flagged Lee’s suggestion as encouragement toward Republicans establishing a consensus candidate:

The FBI is executing a search at the HQ of the “Strategic Campaign Group” – a GOP fundraiser/political consulting firm based in Annapolis, MD but run out of Washington.

FEC records show the firm has worked with scam PAC’s.

Per WBAL-TV’s Jayne Miller:

OpenVote News will have more on this story as it unfolds.

President Trump, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, gave what is perhaps his most substantive comment yet on the firing of ex-FBI Director James Comey.

Below, two big highlights and why they matter:

  • Trump claims he asked Comey directly if he was under investigation:

“I said, ‘If it’s possible would u let me know am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You’re not under investigation,” Trump told Holt.

Why it matters: Trump’s letter to Comey mentions three separate occasions in which Comey informed Trump he was not under investigation.

Comey has not corroborated Trump’s claim, nor has the bureau.

  • Trump confirmed he was going to fire Comey anyway, regardless of Rosenstein

“Look, he’s a grandstander, a showboat…. I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation,” said Trump.

Why it matters:

The White House has previously claimed that Trump acted under the “clear recommendation” of Rosenstein when firing Comey.

Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign after being cast as the mover in the shakeup. The DOJ has denied those reports.

White House officials have publicly credited deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein’s letter as the impetus behind the firing of ex-FBI Director James Comey.

But, according to a Washington Post report, Rosenstein was given a directive from Trump and Sessions: Trump had already decided to fire Comey.

A timeline:

  1. President Trump reportedly grew impatient with Comey’s ‘sanctimonious’ demeanor, uncomfortable with the FBI director’s testimony on the ongoing Russia probe, and annoyed at Comey’s perceived slack in pursuing leaks.
  2. By Monday, Trump had decided to fire Comey, and consulted with his senior team.
  3. Later, Trump summoned AG Jeff Sessions and deputy AG Rosenstein to the White House for a meeting.
  4. Rosenstein was given a directive: explain a case for firing Comey.

Rosenstein threatened to resign:

Rosenstein, later observing the WH line that Trump only acted off his recommendation, threatened to resign:

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.Washington Post

Of Note: Rosenstein’s letter – as OpenVote News has noted before – did not explicitly call for Comey’s firing.

The Senate Intel Committee, as part of its ongoing Russia probe, has issued a subpoena to ex-national security advisor Michael T. Flynn.

The subpoena orders Flynn to share any relevant documents relating to Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Carter Page, another former Trump advisor, has also previously been asked to cooperate with the panels investigation. Page has been corresponding with the panel over email and has not been subpoenaed.

Burr and Warner, in issuing the subpoena, have now followed through on their threat.

Of Note:

The CBO score for the House-approved AHCA bill is expected to be made public by May 22nd. The House approved the bill weeks ago without the up-to-date score.

Senate leaders have promised to effectively craft their own health care bill, but they will work off the House version as a base.

New bill, new score:

Paul Ryan’s spokesperson, Ashlee Strong, stated that the CBO had – contrary to Democratic belief – scored the AHCA twice.

That is true, but: they have not scored the version approved by the House.

Previous estimates for the bill were issued in March, but the latest score does not account for the some major changes added to the bill, like:

  • state block grants for Medicaid
  • $38 billion in high-risk pools

Will the new score be different from what we’ve seen?:

The CBO score released in March estimated that an additional 24 million people would lose insurance over the course of a decade under the AHCA.

GOP lawmaker defends House vote ahead of CBO score:

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY.) defended the GOP decision to approve the bill without an updated CBO score. Reed referred to a ‘base score’:

The base score and the base text, it’s very important to have that score. And I hear the criticism, and I was a voice that said let’s get the full score….but the decision was made to go forward with it, said Reed.

The top ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee have invited ex-FBI Director James Comey to testify at a hearing next Tuesday.

Comey has not yet responded to the invitation.

As first reported by the New York Times, ex-FBI director James Comey was fired just days after requesting more money and resources from the DOJ to the FBI in its investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Comey made the request to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, last week. Senate Intel Committee members were briefed on the request on Monday.

A word on Rosenstein:

  • Rosenstein has served the bureau for 27 years, under 5 different presidents.
  • Rosenstein’s letter – written at the request of AG Jeff Sessions – blasted the FBI directors handling of the Clinton letter.
  • The public is unlikely to trust the bureau, said Rosenstein, until it has “a Director who understands gravity of mistakes & pledges never 2 repeat.”
  • But Rosenstein’s letter – notably – does not explicitly recommend Comey be fired.

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to former associates of ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, per a CNN report.

Prosecutors are seeking business records on projects involving Flynn after his removal from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

  • Flynn is accused of mishandling disclosures on payments received from clients with ties to foreign governments, including Russia and Turkey.
  • Flynn failed to disclose a $45,000 payment appearance fee received from Russia Today – a prominent state news network.
  • US Attorney Dana Boente’s office issued the subpoena. Boente is also overseeing the investigation into Wikileaks.

Flynn’s attorney, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria declined comment to the CNN report.

The FBI also declined to comment.

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, held a town hall tonight. One constituent asked Garrett about President Trump and what (if anything) would cause Garrett to lose faith in him.

America has overcome amazing challenges that Donald Trump, as frightening as he is to some people, small potatoes compared to Nazi Germany, said Garrett.

He stressed that some conservatives had similar world-ending fears about former President Barack Obama.

“If I see a Trump who I think has betrayed his duty to the Constitution, he needs to go,” Garrett added.

Garrett sidesteps Comey questions:

The town hall came just moments after news broke of James Comey’s firing. Garrett declined to say whether or not he supports a special prosecutor.

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