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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Jim Comey's cinematic opening statement, describing his awkward encounters with President Trump in vivid detail that you almost never get from inside government, foretells gripping testimony when the fired FBI director goes before Capitol Hill cameras at 10 a.m. ET today.

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell pointed out that any actor would want to act it, and any director would want to direct it.

Comey's pre-released testimony, about a Jan 27 dinner in the White House Green Room: "[T]he President said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence."

For all the cable-news talk of smoking guns, top Republicans were authentically relieved by what they read in the afternoon bombshell.

Their reaction puzzled me at first, but here's a truth bomb: Comey's seven-page, 3,100-word statement describes unusual, unprecedented and, to most, disturbing behavior by the president. But it presents no new information that proves a crime:

  • Read between the lines, and you see Trump's transactional side — trying to make a distraction go away, like you would in business. The problem of course, is that he's no longer just running a family business: Corner-cutting and interference doesn't work in the Oval.
  • The rapier reporting by The New York Times' Michael Schmidt was perfectly borne out. Putting aside the astonishing atmospherics, the facts of Comey's account are what we expected, but not much more.
  • The key passage, when Comey says Trump "called me at the FBI" on March 30: "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud.'"
  • Brookings senior fellow Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey's and editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, posted one of the best deconstructions of the statement, calling the Trump scenes "poisonous stuff ... conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president."
  • But Wittes also writes: "Let's leave to another day whether anything the President did here amounts to any kind of obstruction of justice."
  • A top Republican close to the White House said the statement "shows Trump is relentless and unconcerned with Presidential behavioral conventions, which are two of the characteristics that won him votes."
  • Republicans, though, need to recognize what they're defending: actions that show little respect or understanding for the lines and limits that safeguard rule of law. This isn't normal.

Be smart: The road ahead is long. Comey's statement is captivating, but not grounds for impeachment. The threshold for any action is much higher than many think, because Republicans alone will set it.

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Go deeper

Updated 56 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Facebook paying up to $14M to settle employment discrimination claims

Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook has agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle allegations that it discriminated against American workers by reserving positions for temporary visa holders, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The settlement represents the largest civil penalty and monetary award that the Civil Rights Division has recovered in the 35-year history of the Immigration and Nationality Act's anti-discrimination provision.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Mapping repression in China's Xinjiang region

Data: © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap; Map: Will Chase/Axios

A sweeping new report released today by an Australian research organization reveals new details about how the Chinese Communist Party — and specifically who within the party — is carrying out its campaign of repression in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: Uncovering the actual offices and individuals implementing the Chinese government's genocide and forced labor policies in Xinjiang can bring accountability and help international companies delink supply chains in compliance with U.S. and EU forced labor laws.

Report: U.S. Latinos near 50% homeownership rate

Real estate broker Alex Betances sits in front of a home in Reading, Pa. Photo: Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Image

Latinos increased their homeownership rate to nearly 50% in 2020, according to a report from a group monitoring U.S. Hispanic wealth creation.

Why it matters: The Hispanic Wealth Project found that the homeownership rate grew despite the lack of diversified financial assets among Latinos and around 15% who still live below the federal poverty line ($26,500 for a family of four).

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