Friday, June 9, 2017

James Comey Likens Himself To Saint Thomas Of Beckett

I listened to former FBI Director James Comey as he testified before Congress yesterday. The media had been making the event out to be The Superbowl Of Congressional Testimonies but I knew that there wouldn't be much in the way of revelations. If there's anything to be revealed, it won't be in a public hearing. However, my ears did perk up when Comey likened himself to Saint Thomas of Beckett. It's an interesting comparison, one I think I know a fair amount about. For those of you who don't know the St. Thomas of Beckett situation, I'll explain it the best I can and draw the parallel that Comey thinks he sees.

In the 12th Century, Thomas Beckett had been working in the household of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He proved to be very good at the tasks that the Archbishop gave him, so he recommended Beckett to King Henry II (aka Henry The Plantagenet, subject of the famous play "The Lion in Winter" in which I, myself, once acted) for the position of Lord Chancellor. Thomas Beckett did so well in that position that, when the Archbishop of Canterbury died, he was nominated and confirmed as the new Archbishop. King Henry II was thrilled that he now had a man on his side in the office to approve of his morally questionable decisions. Problem is, while Beckett may have played loose with the Bible beforehand, he seemed to become a true believer once he became Archbishop.

A rift developed between the King Henry II and Thomas Beckett. Thomas Beckett refused to endorce the King's behavior, and, in turn, King Henry II spread lies and false allegations in an attempt to ruin Thomas Beckett's reputation. The breaking point came when Beckett excommunicated a number of bishops for crowing Henry The Young King as heir apparent, which circumvented Beckett's right of Coronation. Upon hearing of this, King Henry II is reported to have said "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" in the presence of four of his knights. The knights interpreted the phrase as an order and assassinated Thomas Beckett. It did not have the effect that the king desired. Thomas Beckett was venerated as a martyr and was canonized as a saint a mere two years after his death. Meanwhile, the King tried to deny that his phrase was to be taken as an order yet made no attempt to arrest the knights who assassinated Thomas Beckett.

And that's where we come to President Donald Trump and James Comey. Like Thomas Beckett, Comey has been exiled (fired and politically neutered), and defamed (Trump referred to Comey as "That nutjob" and called into question his job performance). I don't know how martyrdom would translate to the modern era, but I'm sure a case can be made for it. For me, though, I see another parallel, one that doesn't quite fit with Comey's interpretation, but one that's important all the same. According to Comey, President Trump had been trying to have Comey pledge his loyalty and ultimately said, in reference to the Michael Flynn investigation, "I hope you can let this go". Trump has denied that the conversation ever took place. However, his surrogates say that Trump uttered the phrase as a sincere hope that Flynn would ultimately cleared by the investigation not as an order to Comey to drop the investigation. Comey has testified that he interpreted the phrase as a veiled order which would be obstruction of justice.

So, where are we legally? Can one reasonably interpret the phrase "I hope you can let this go" as an order? Context and nuance are key here. Even though Trump didn't say "I order you to drop the investigation", courts have ruled in the past that similar phrases can be seen as direct orders. Witness the stereotypical mob enforcer phrase: "This is a nice business you have here. It'd be a shame if something happened to it". No threat is made in the literal sense, but the implication behind it is well known. Whether this leads to anything with Trump is anybody's guess at the moment. My own thought is that, unless tapes of the conversation exists (which Trump has alleged via Twitter) it'll just boil down to "He Said/She Said" and that won't be enough to prove obstruction.

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