Senate Democrats stop short of saying Trump obstructed justice
Posted June 8
Senate Democrats said they were disturbed and had more questions about President Donald Trump's conduct following former FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday -- but they weren't ready to say he obstructed justice.
While their House counterparts have already started drawing up articles of impeachment, Senate Democrats danced around the obstruction of justice accusation, saying more needs to be uncovered in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
"Look, we're not there yet," California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told CNN. "And there shouldn't be a rush to judgment. There's a lot of work that has to be done."
Comey testified Thursday that he believed Trump was directing him to drop the probe into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, although he also said that Trump never told him explicitly to do so. Comey also testified he indirectly had his own memo of the conversation leaked in order to try to get a special counsel appointed.
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Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon came the closest among intelligence committee Democrats to accusing Trump of obstructing the Flynn investigation, but he said he didn't want to make that legal judgment.
"If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck," Wyden said.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, also declined to address the obstruction of justice question.
"I'll allow lawyers, better lawyers than me, to make that determination," Warner told CNN's Manu Raju.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, a freshman on the intelligence panel, said "we'll see," when asked about obstruction of justice.
Republicans, meanwhile, said that some of Trump's interactions with Comey may have been inappropriate, but argued they didn't constitute breaking the law.
"I don't think anyone would leave this hearing and say to you that what the President said in the Oval Office on the 14th of February was appropriate," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a reference to a specific meeting where Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the federal investigation into Flynn. "Whether it rises to criminality, you know, I think there's significant doubts about whether it rises to that level."
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Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told CNN Comey's testimony was a "little bit of a mixed bag" for Trump, but cautioned it was only one step in a broader investigation.
"We're not going to reach conclusions based on what one person has to say," Cornyn said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was not at Thursday's hearing, told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux that while Trump may be "rude and crude," that's not a crime.
"If it was a crime to be rude and crude and a bull in a china shop, he'd get a life sentence, but it's not," Graham said.
After the hearing, Graham told reporters that Comey was "pissed off" over the inappropriate way he was fired, but argued that Mueller was not considering obstruction of justice because he let Comey testify.
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"If you think the special counsel believes there was obstruction of justice, he was the biggest idiot in the world to let his chief witness go through this," Graham said. "Mueller is not an idiot. Mueller has concluded in my own mind that there's not going to be an obstruction of justice case because he wouldn't have allowed Comey to testify."
During his weekly presser, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump's actions were a result of the fact Trump was politically inexperienced.
"Of course there needs to be a degree of independence between DOJ, FBI and the White House and a line of communications established. The president's new at this," Ryan said. "He's new to government. So, he probably wasn't steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He's just new to this."
Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said the panel's next step would be to coordinate with Mueller to ensure the congressional investigation and Mueller's probe are de-conflicted. The Senate panel is also eager to get its own copy of Comey's memos detailing his conversations with Trump, which Comey said he had given to Mueller, as well as Columbia law professor Daniel C. Richman.
Some senators not on the intelligence committee were watching the hearing closely -- Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut both watched from the area behind the dais typically reserved for congressional aides.
Others sought to stay as far as they could from the blockbuster Comey drama on Capitol Hill. Asked how much of the Comey hearing he tuned into, Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania said "pretty close to zero."
"I had a banking hearing, had a finance hearing, had multiple meetings," Toomey said, adding that Republicans hadn't spent much time discussing it at their daily lunch.
Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, shook his head as he passed by TV crews clamoring for him to stop and talk about the Comey hearing. He noted he hadn't paid attention to it.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters: "I didn't see it. ... I might have heard three minutes as I was walking through the office. I don't even know who the interviewer was."