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The broadcast networks scrapped their daytime lineups for live coverage of Comey’s testimony, keeping their morning show anchors at their respective news desks.
George Stephanopoulos led ABC News coverage, which also included chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl and senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, among others. The CBS This Morning team of Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King were joined in New York by Face the Nation host John Dickerson. NBC News dispatched Today anchor Savannah Guthrie to Washington to cover the hearing, while Lester Holt and Chuck Todd anchored from New York. NBC’s newest anchor, Megyn Kelly, (who landed an interview last week with Vladimir Putin, a major player in the Trump-Comey saga) was not on hand. PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff provided live coverage for her network, and Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith led coverage on Fox.
But there was little opportunity for anchor chat as the Senate intelligence committee hearing began at 10:03 a.m. ET, when Comey entered the Senate chamber. Photographers lined up to take pictures of the sacked FBI director, who sat ramrod straight in his seat, gazing expressionless at the bank of photographers.
“We’re looking forward to a very open and candid discussion today,” Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, said at the start of Comey’s scheduled three hours of testimony. A closed-door session will commence at 1 p.m. ET.
Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the committee, sounded a much harsher tone in his preamble. Of President Trump’s “explanation” for firing Comey on May 9, Warner noted it “didn’t pass any smell test.” He added that the explanation — that Comey was fired for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — “lasted about a day,” as Trump subsequently admitted that he was “thinking about Russia when he decided to fire [Comey].”
Comey did not read the statement he released on Wednesday night recounting in painstaking detail his meetings and phone calls with Trump. The most dramatic early moment came at about 10:20 a.m., when Comey took issue with the Justice Department’s stated characterization of the FBI under Comey as in disarray amid a failure of leadership.
“Those were lies,” said Comey, “plain and simple.”
It has always been rare for broadcast networks to cover hearings live. They did so in 1954 for the Army-McCarthy hearings, in 1973 for the Watergate hearings, in 1987 for the Iran-Contra hearings, in 1991 for the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings and in 1998, for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings.
As the public hearing wrapped up around 12:40 p.m. ET, Stephanopoulos and legal correspondent Dan Abrams discussed what Stephanopoulos called the “wow” moment of the hearing: when Comey admitted that he asked a friend at Columbia University Law School to tell a reporter about the contents of his memos on his Trump meetings. Abrams and Stephanopoulos agreed that Comey’s initiating the leak was intended to get a special counsel appointed for the Russia investigation.
Over on NBC News, Holt noted that “one thing that did not happen over the last two-and-a-half hours was a live tweet from the president.” Trump was giving a speech at the Faith and Freedom Forum at the time of the Senate hearing. And Kristen Welker remarked that the speech was designed as “counterprogramming to the events on Capitol Hill.”
CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, reporting from the White House, noted that the administration was conspicuously quiet during the hearing and that Trump’s son Donald Jr., was serving as de facto surrogate when he issued a series of tweets defending his father during Comey’s testimony.
The networks went back to regularly scheduled programming at 1 p.m.
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