Local Reaction to Comey Testimony Reflects Divide

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Opponents of President Trump can complain all they want, but it won’t matter unless Congress acts to impeach him, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said following former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony Thursday morning.

Comey, whom Trump fired last month amid shifting explanations, testified 2½ hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with Trump up to his firing, including Trump’s apparent attempts to have him back off the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn was fired following the revelation that he had not disclosed contacts with Russian representatives. Russia is under investigation for its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey told the committee he was fired because of the Russia investigation. He also accused the president of lying when it said FBI personnel were unhappy with Comey’s performance and defamed him and the agency by saying the agency was poorly led.

“Those were lies, plain and simple,” he remarked.

Betras, an attorney, said he watched “a good part” of the hearing and “was disgusted” by what he saw.

“I find it disgusting that a sitting president would ask an FBI director to back off of an investigation,” he said. “I want everyone to let this sink in: [Comey] called the president a liar.”

Nonetheless, there’s nothing that can be done unless Congress – Republicans control both chambers – acts to impeach him.

“We can scream all we want. You cannot indict a sitting president,” Betras stated. “Impeachment is a political move, not a legal move. So unless Congress acts to impeach him, we can all sit around and complain about it, but nothing’s going to get done.”

The Democratic leader also reminded people to vote. “Elections have consequences,” he said.

Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, charged that Washington in general and Democrats in particular are “desperate to do anything” to stop Trump and can’t get over the results of the election when Trump beat the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

“Today, there is still no evidence of any collusion between Trump and the Russians, and that Trump was acting within his authority as president to replace an FBI director in whom he had lost confidence,” Munroe said.

“People have been betting against Trump from the moment he got into the race. Each time Trump has proven his detractors wrong,” Munroe continued. “He’s going to stay focused on jobs, the economy, health care and national security, which is what Main Street America wants him to do.”

Following the hearing, members of Congress issued statements about Comey’s testimony.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said he couldn’t help but feel “an overwhelming sense of sadness for the state of affairs” Trump has put the nation in. The president and his team put “an extraordinary effort into downplaying, ignoring, and flat out derailing an investigation into an attack from a hostile foreign adversary against our very democracy,” Ryan said.

“We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Russia interfered in our election and that former and current senior officials in the president’s own administration are under investigation,” he said. Comey’s testimony illustrated the lengths Trump took to interfere in the ongoing investigation.

“It is painfully clear that when Director Comey signaled that he would not put loyalty to Donald Trump above his commitment to the pursuit of truth, he paid for it with his job,” Ryan said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, emphasized the White House interpretation of a point that it has focused on over the past day, that Comey told Trump that he was not under investigation by the FBI.

“I’m glad that was said publicly because it shows that a lot of the reporting about this subject has been flat out wrong,” Johnson said. “I hope some of the news media that have been blurring the line between partisan advocacy and journalism will rely less on anonymous sources with axes to grind and more on official reports and on-the-record information like the Comey testimony.”

The Republican congressman also stressed his continued support for the separate investigations underway in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate into Russian hacking and the attempt to influence the electoral process.

“I’m hopeful that the independent counsel will also find those who have leaked sensitive or classified information to the media and bring them to justice. The American people deserve the full truth,” he said.

In response to a request for comment from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Portman spokeswoman Emily Benavides reiterated the GOP senator’s support for requests for Comey to testify publicly.

“Many of the matters he discussed, including the issue of Russian meddling in our presidential election, are being reviewed by the special counsel and [Portman] looks forward to seeing the results of this investigation,” Benavides continued.

Protecting future U.S. elections from Russian influence should be a priority, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said following the hearing.

“Ohio’s Ukrainian community knows the impact of unchecked Russian aggression and Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy around the world,” Brown said.

“What we didn’t hear in Director Comey’s testimony were any conversations with the president about how to protect America from Russian interference in the next election,” he continued. “My priority is getting to the bottom of what happened so our democratic process is upheld and we can move forward with the business of creating jobs, renegotiating failed trade deals and combating the opioid crisis.”

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.