Former FBI Director James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on Capitol Hill on June 8, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Fiore/KQED)
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris managed to claim some of the most entertaining moments of Thursday's must-watch James Comey testimony, but Feinstein was far more effective at getting the former FBI director to answer key questions.
That may be in part because Harris, a freshman senator, was among the final committee members to question Comey, fired in May by President Trump. Feinstein, the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was just fourth in line.
Still, both women's remarks, and Comey's answers to them, set Twitter ablaze -- first when the former FBI director told Feinstein, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," and then later, when Harris' questions about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' reaction to a conversation with him prompted Comey to mimic a shrug.
California was one of two states (Maine is the other) with both of its senators on the committee, which heard nearly three hours of testimony from Comey in public session before retreating behind closed doors.
While most of the back-and-forths were dead serious, Comey got several laughs and a lot of reaction over some of his remarks, including when he said he's not "Captain Courageous," when he admitted he would have preferred to spend Valentine's Day with his wife rather than having dinner with Trump, and when he compared leaking his memo to the press to "feeding seagulls at the beach."
Both California senators sought to push back on a narrative driven by their GOP colleagues: that Trump's comments to Comey were not aimed at pressuring the FBI director to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contact with Russian officials.
In written testimony submitted ahead of time to the committee, Comey wrote that the president said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Harris jumped on that statement in her opening remarks:
"You and I are both former prosecutors and I am not going to require you to answer this," Harris said. "But in my experience in prosecuting cases, when a robber held a gun to somebody’s head and said, 'I hope you give me your wallet,' the word hope was not the operative word at that moment."
Feinstein pressed Comey on that statement, asking him to go into more detail about his impression that the remarks were aimed at pushing him to drop the investigation of Flynn -- a conversation Comey called inappropriate. Then she asked Comey why he didn't push back in the moment:
Feinstein: Now, here's the question. You're big, you're strong. I know the Oval Office and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation, but why didn't you stop and say, "Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you."
Comey: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in, and the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind cause I can remember every word he said, because I was playing in my mind what should my response be? And that's why I very carefully chose the words. Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I remember saying, "I agree he's a good guy," as a way of saying I'm not agreeing with what you just asked me to do. Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that's how I conducted myself. I hope I'll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better.
Comey's line about the tapes -- "Lordy, I hope there are tapes" -- was immediately seized on by observers as one of the hearing's folksy moments and because it was the first time he's publicly mentioned Trump's tweet:
Harris later tried to probe deeper into the issue of potential connections between the Trump administration and Russia, asking him a series of questions that Comey declined to answer in open session. They included the now-famous Sessions shrug.
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