Congress, American people, media given very incomplete picture of allegations against president
By Margaret Menge, LifeZette:
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Wednesday morning that Congress and the American people “need the facts” about an alleged memo created by former FBI Director James Comey, given that “there are some people out there that want to harm the president.”
The memo, first reported by The New York Times late Tuesday, asserted that President Donald Trump said he hoped Comey, then the FBI director, would consider wrapping up an investigation into Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear from Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why he didn’t take action at the time,” Ryan said at a news conference with House GOP leaders, “so there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Following are 11 of the most important questions that remain unanswered about the alleged memo and The Times’ report:
1.) Where is the Comey memo?
The New York Times based a Page 1 story, called “Trump Appealed to Comey to Halt Inquiry of Flynn,” on a document that the newspaper does not have and has not seen, using anonymous sources who told reporters what is in the alleged memo.
Where is the memo?
2.) Why did The Times not have it in hand before writing such an important story?
Sources sometimes lie. Anonymous sources sometimes lie. Anonymous sources face no consequences when they lie. The Times is well aware of this, given that anonymous sources lied repeatedly to then-Times reporter Judith Miller about evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We know how that turned out.
3.) Why did The Times not insist that the source read the entire memo?
By not insisting on hearing a reading of the full text of the memo, the paper allowed the anonymous source or sources to pick out select quotes that could be more damaging when heard out of context. The reporter, Michael S. Schmidt, essentially relinquished his power over the story as a journalist, and gave the sources the power to decide what the story is.
4.) Why did The Times use loaded language to describe the memo?
The Times story says the president asked Comey “to shut down the federal investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.” But the quotes it references (those the unnamed source selected) do not support this statement.
The quote has the president saying, according to Comey’s memo, according to the source: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Clearly, this is not the same as a president saying: “Shut down the investigation.”
As Andrew McCarthy, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told CNN on May 16, Trump saying he understands the FBI is independent and must pursue what it needs to pursue, but that he would hope they could let the Flynn affair go, would not constitute any violation of law. Did The Times unfairly characterize what the president is reported to have said?
5.) Who are the sources inside the FBI?
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says reporters should “identify sources clearly” and emphasizes: “The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability of sources” and says journalists must “consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity.”
The Times refers only to “two people who read the memo.” This is not sufficient. Who are they? Why were they granted anonymity? The American people need to know.
6.) What is the motivation of the leakers who talked to the media?
The timing of the release of information, about a memo in which FBI Director Comey records for himself his notes on a February meeting with President Trump, comes after the president’s firing of Comey. It also comes the same day that the president tweeted that he has been asking Comey and others since January to “find the LEAKERS” in the intelligence community.
Is revenge the motivation of those who contacted The Times with information that they hoped would damage the president? Is fear of prosecution? A desire to escape prosecution? If Trump is damaged or under threat of impeachment, it’s less likely that leakers would be prosecuted, it seems. This certainly would be powerful motivation.
Is the motivation of the sources a desire to not be held accountable for their actions to representatives of the people?
7.) Why does The Times say the president tried to influence the FBI’s investigation?
The Times, in what is called the “nut graph” of its story, says the memo, which it doesn’t have, hasn’t seen, and hasn’t heard read in its entirely, “is the clearest evidence” that Trump “has tried to directly influence” the FBI’s investigation into links between Trump associates and Russia.
The paper can’t make that claim without having seen or heard the memo read in its entirety.
And the claim of “influence” directly contradicts what the now acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week: “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
8.) Why did Comey write the memo?
If Comey believed that the president of the United States was trying to influence or interfere with an investigation, why did he not report this?
Why did he instead write a memo to himself? Lawyers document. They are trained to document. They document so that if any question is raised about what someone said or did on a particular date, they have something to back up their own account. People document to protect themselves.
Comey’s memo, according to the New York Times’ unnamed sources, quotes Comey as saying, in response to Trump’s saying he hopes the FBI can let the Flynn investigation go, “I agree he is a good guy.”
The Comey memo seems clearly written to protect Comey, in the event someone should later accuse him of saying or doing something improper.
9.) How can The Times assert what Comey “perceived”?
Is The Times’ source James Comey himself? If it is not, how can the paper report in its story that the memo Comey wrote was part of a paper trail “documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an investigation”?
A reporter’s job is to report facts. A reporter cannot state that “so-and-so feels,” “so-and-so perceives,” or “so-and-so believes” because it is not possible to know, for a fact, what another person feels, perceives or believes. All that can be known is what someone says and what he does. Unless the subject himself is the source.
10.) Was The Times’ sources James Comey himself?
Did James Comey himself talk to The Times?
This would be important for the readers to know, considering the rather obvious motivation of a person to “stick it” to the boss after he is fired. (See “wrongful termination” suits and a huge area of human resources law meant to protect employers from them.) People do not like to be fired. And when they’re fired, they tend to want to get even.
11.) Why are we even talking about the Michael Flynn investigation?
It should strike everyone as strange that we’re even talking about an FBI investigation involving Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
The FBI, like every other law enforcement agency in America, does not normally confirm the existence of investigations or divulge detailed information about ongoing investigations. Many agencies are prohibited from divulging such information.
Why was it disclosed that Flynn is being looked at as part of the FBI’s investigation?
What are his alleged crimes?
This article was used with permission from LifeZette.