As Katie reported late this afternoon, ABC News is quoting sources close to former FBI Director James Comey who say he will not testify that President Trump obstructed justice when he privately expressed his hope to Comey in February that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn would emerge from legal peril unscathed. CNN's Jake Tapper received independent confirmation of Comey's intentions from his own source, reporting the news earlier this evening. The take-away seems to be that Comey will tell the truth about what happened, but does not intend to offer any fresh, dramatic revelations:
"[Comey] will not come to any legal conclusions about whether President Trump's actions in his meetings Comey constituted obstruction of justice...Comey does not believe it's his place to do so. The source says Comey will be there as a fact witness, and leave the legal analysis for others. As far as any big dramatic revelations, the source also suggests 'the center of gravity is going to be what's already out there.'"
If these sources are correct in their characterization of Comey's approach to the upcoming hearings, we can probably start to piece together his likely responses to some of the questions I posed in this analysis today. I'd still imagine that it's quite unlikely that the president or the White House will come out of Thursday's proceedings smelling like roses, but Comey's reported unwillingness to classify Trump's actions as unlawful would take some wind out of impeachment-itchy Democrats' sails. One obvious irony in all of this is that Comey is apparently preparing to side-step the legal question of obstruction, leaving such decisions up to others -- which is precisely the opposite of what he did vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton's improper, national security-endangering email scheme.
In that case, Comey underscored her many lies and scolded her reckless conduct, but took it upon himself to let her off the legal hook by claiming 'no reasonable prosecutor' would bring a case against her under the Espionage Act. In reaching that heavily disputed conclusion, Comey effectively rewrote the relevant statute to make intent a decisive factor, which is not what the law says. He also claimed to be unable to divine her intent, a conclusion that Trey Gowdy adroitly filleted through a series of prosecutorial questions. Still, it could turn out that Comey's aversion to attributing criminal intent to major political figures may end up leaving Trump in the clear. And he's going to complicate their preferred narrative, Democrats may flip back to despising Comey -- again treating him with open hostility, as opposed to as a martyr. If you aren't sure how one political party feels about James Comey at any given moment, wait five minutes. Stay tuned.