The most important moment of fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, according to Democrats: When he said he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller will examine whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
Not, as headlines trumpeted, how he called Trump a liar.
Democrats were eager to spread a succinct, biting message Thursday as Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and party stalwarts thought possible obstruction could have far-reaching political consequences for the president and Republican Party.
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” Comey said. “I took it as a very disturbing thing and very concerning, but that’s a conclusion that I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
Comey made the prediction as he testified Trump has encouraged him to drop an FBI investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser.
Through an attorney, Trump has disputed Comey’s account of their conversations.
Democrats didn’t immediately see any of Comey’s comments can be turned into a ready-made TV ad or a soundbite their candidates will repeat every campaign. But the testimony does reinforce their view that the president is on track to harm his party’s chances during next year’s midterm elections.
On Wednesday, a Quinnipiac University poll found that Trump’s approval rating stood at 34 percent, his lowest number yet in the survey. Gallup, which conducts a poll that tracks Trump’s approval every day, found his numbers were below 40 percent each day this week.
If Trump’s unpopularity holds, Democrats are confident they can make significant gains in the House while holding onto seats in the Senate, where they must defend 10 states Trump won during last year’s presidential election. Democrats need net gains of 24 seats to win control of the House and three Senate seats to win a majority in that chamber.
The Democratic National Committee listed the obstruction comment as the day’s No. 1 revelation, writing that Comey had “offered the best evidence yet that Trump is under investigation.”
The former FBI director, in prepared remarks released Wednesday,said he told Trump three times that he was not personally under investigation, testimony that Republicans trumpeted as the day’s most important news.
“Before this hearing, independent voters already believed that Republicans are not doing enough to hold President Trump accountable on Russia and his firing of James Comey,” said Josh Schwerin, spokesman for Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC.
“Today’s revelation from Comey that Bob Mueller is investigating Trump for obstruction of justice raises the stakes for Republicans who would rather carry the President’s water than see this investigation through and ensure anyone who broke the law is held accountable.”
DNC Chair Tom Perez said the testimony “just gave us the clearest and most damning evidence yet that President Trump lied to the American people and is likely under investigation for obstruction of justice – a serious and disturbing charge,.”