Get ready for ‘Comey III: The Last Crusade’ as former FBI director is called to testify

  • James Comey's testimony on Thursday before the Senate will be the third time in less than a year that he has captivated public attention.
  • The first two were about Hillary Clinton's emails; this one is about Trump and a probe of possible Russian meddling in the election.
  • Expect Democrats at the hearing to try to find a smoking gun.
  • Expect Republicans to hammer home one word: Evidence.

Grab some popcorn and get ready for what has been built up as bigger event than anyone could possibly imagine when it comes to a congressional hearing: Former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. This is part of a probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It is the first time we will hear publicly from Comey since he was abruptly fired by Trump last month.

If Comey's testimony were a movie, the title would be: "James Comey III: The Last Crusade." That's because this will be the third, and likely the last, time over the past 11 months that Comey will command just about all the nation's attention. But part three is most likely to be a lot like parts one and two, which means this sequel is going to leave everyone a little disappointed and angry.

James Comey photograph by Getty Images

In "Raiders of the Lost Emails" (part one) last July, then-FBI Director Comey put the nation at a standstill as he made his very public announcement about the Hillary Clinton email case on live TV. He even added to the suspense when he reminded the viewers at the beginning of his statement that, "I have not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say."

That was basically better than a well-produced movie trailer. But like all trailers, the actual movie didn't live up to the hype. While Comey effectively cleared Clinton, infuriating conservatives, he laid out more than enough embarrassingly conclusions about Clinton's "careless" conduct that she came out badly bruised anyway. In that way it was like a movie with a lot of action, but no climax.

Then we got "Email: Temple of Doom" (part two) in late October, when Comey publicly reopened the Clinton email case and dangled the possibility of charging her just days before the election. That also turned out to be something of a frustrating tease as nothing more really came of that second act as far as criminal charges. But Hillary Clinton herself is still saying that October moment doomed her campaign.

Thursday brings us the next installment when Comey will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee in what's likely the final time he will capture public attention so epically. The topic will be the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents and any alleged attempts by the Trump team to cover it up. Unlike the first two parts of the Comey trilogy, there will be four main characters in this production: Comey himself, the Democrats on the committee, the Republicans on the committee, and President Donald Trump himself who reportedly may live tweeting the event.

Again, don't expect too much slam-dunk clarity from Comey during his opening statements and a great deal of his responses to the questioning. We've come to expect that from his performance in the first two installments. That means Comey is likely to say a lot of things that make President Donald Trump look bad, but stops short of a clear accusation of a crime. This is Comey's established M.O. now.

We got a few previews of that on Tuesday: Law-enforcement officials said that Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he didn't want to be alone in a room with Trump. (Which would mean that he would likely have nothing incriminating against Trump.) And ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl reported Tuesday that sources tell him Comey will not accuse President Trump of obstruction of justice.

But look for Democrats on the committee to try their darnedest to push Comey over that edge anyway when they question him about the now infamous dinner where President Trump allegedly asked him to wrap up the probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This will become everything to the Democrats because it's the one possibly impeachable offense the president himself has committed in this entire affair that we know of up to now. But for any of that to go anywhere in a majority Republican House where articles of impeachment would have to pass, the committee will need to get the equivalent of a smoking gun out of Comey. Good luck with that, Democrats.

Republicans are likely to focus on the word "evidence" as much as possible and hard evidence to be precise. No matter how far Comey goes to describe how Trump's comments made him feel or how much the investigation of the Trump team's alleged collusion looks, the GOP senators on the committee will try to get Comey to say and repeat ad nauseam that there is no solid evidence of any actual crime ... at least not yet. In that sense, the Republicans have a great chance to be a lot more successful than their Democratic counterparts. This is a logical conclusion. Even former Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admits there is no evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

Look for GOP senators to ask for Comey's personal memos going back to his time working under the Obama administration. If Comey refuses or is unable to produce them, committee chair Richard Burr could very likely make a conclusion that Comey's personal recollections aren't as valuable to any Congressional investigation.

As for President Trump and his tweeting, we've already learned to expect the unexpected from him on social media. Considering the unsatisfying results both Trump haters and supporters are likely to get from Comey himself, the president's tweets might steal the show ... again.

Partisan groups say and do what they always say and do, and these hearings will be no different. It's important to remember that, in politics, the only really unexpected dramas occur on Election Day. And considering this is a democracy after all, that's the way it should stay.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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