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Vox Sentences: Mr. Comey goes to Washington

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We sure hope you slept until about 2 pm today because you’ll be up late waiting for UK election results. Luckily, nothing happened before then or anything, right?


Mr. Comey goes to Washington

James Comey Testifies At Senate Hearing On Russian Interference In US Election Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • If you were watching former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday — which, to be fully honest, it seems like maybe more people were than really needed to? Like, don’t some of you work during the day? — you witnessed one of the best acts of political theatre in recent memory. I (Dara) mean that in a good way. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • We didn’t learn a ton of new information, strictly speaking. One highly notable exception: Comey alluded to not-yet-public information that led him to believe Attorney General Jeff Sessions would need to recuse himself from the FBI’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. [Business Insider / Josh Barro]
  • (Based on what he proceeded to tell senators in a closed-door briefing Thursday afternoon, it looks like the information in question is that Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak more times than he’d admitted to — and left all of those meetings out of his confirmation hearings and vetting documents.) [Vox / Dara Lind and Tara Golshan]
  • But the heart of the hearing was Comey building a case that President Donald Trump, either out of malice or ignorance, repeatedly attempted to violate the FBI’s independence. It was a case that required a pitch-perfect performance in the role of “upstanding FBI agent,” and Comey nailed it. [Washington Post / Alyssa Rosenberg]
  • Comey’s performance was probably sincere, but it’s important to remember that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a seasoned operator within government structures. He’s trying to protect the reputation of the agency he formerly led against allegations that it’s mishandled both the 2016 election and the Trump administration. [The Intercept / Mattathias Schwartz and Ryan Devereaux]
  • But that’s part of what made the hearing so dramatic — it was the culmination of themes that have been building for months. Donald Trump, the reality-TV show president, ought to appreciate the craft. [Vox / Caroline Framke]
  • We don’t actually know what Trump himself thought of the hearings. He’s been oddly quiet on Twitter, and a speech today stuck to the script.
  • Trump’s lawyer, however, issued a statement right after the hearing that casually accused Comey of perjuring himself with his testimony, and asserted that Comey had committed some sort of crime by “leaking” the contents of conversations in which he had participated. (That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.) [Slate / Leon Neyfakh]
  • Now, it’s largely up to special counsel Robert Mueller to get to the bottom of this — both the Russia investigation, and the question of whether Trump acted illegally in firing Comey. [The Nation / George Zornick]
  • The case that Trump actually committed obstruction of justice wasn’t really strengthened by Comey’s testimony, which is to say, it’s still debatable. What’s less debatable is that Trump acted wrongly. One legal expert described it as “lawful, but awful.” [MSNBC / Alex Seitz-Wald and Ken Dilanian]
  • At the end of the day, the legal argument is kind of irrelevant. The body that would be holding Trump to account would be Congress, if it decided to impeach him. Congress can impeach someone without charging them of a formal federal crime. But this Congress still appears profoundly uninterested in doing anything of the kind.

...wot.

Theresa May Tours The UK On The Final Day Of The Election Campaign Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images
  • The people of Great Britain went to the polls to elect a new Parliament Thursday, in an election that — between the impending negotiations over Brexit and the general sense that any election in the “Western world” is now a battle between cosmopolitanism and nationalism — has surprisingly profound consequences for people outside Britain. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • And ... you might very well know more about how they’ve gone than we do.
  • Here’s the deal as of press time Thursday. The initial exit poll projected that no party would get a majority of seats in Parliament, resulting in a “hung Parliament” and forcing the plurality party (the Conservative Party, led by current Prime Minister Theresa May) to search for a smaller party to form a governing coalition with. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • But while the exit polls in Great Britain are generally pretty good, they underestimated the Conservatives’ margin in Parliament by 15 seats last election (in 2015) — and a similar error this time would mean the Conservatives would have an outright majority. [FT / Matt Singh]
  • Furthermore, the earliest ballot returns have shown a much better result for the Conservatives — and a much worse result for their chief rivals, the Labour Party — than the exit polls predicted, so it’s possible the Conservatives will have an enormous majority and no one knows anything really. [Allison Pearson via Twitter]
  • Honestly, the fact that there is so much uncertainty is itself a big problem for the Conservatives. Because this election didn’t need to happen. They could have kept their majority for four years. But Theresa May, high on good polling and anxious to unify her party behind a “hard Brexit” (involving leaving the EU’s trade and immigration agreements), called a snap election in spring in the name of selecting a Brexit negotiating team. [The Atlantic / Samuel Earle]
  • But Brexit really wasn’t the topic of the election. Instead — after the Conservatives floated, then backpedaled on, a proposal to have seniors pay part of their medical care that was called the “dementia tax” — it became an election about social services in Britain. And that primed many voters, especially young people, to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, who promised more funding to the National Health Service and tuition-free college. [NME / Mike Williams]
  • Corbyn is something of a throwback to the quasisocialist Labour Party of the 1970s — he wants to nationalize several industries. And he’s been a pretty dysfunctional leader of the party in Parliament. But many outsiders like him — he was elected because of a surge of new Labour Party members who joined to vote for him — which might have provided the motivation boost to spur the party toward a better-than-expected performance Thursday. [BBC Newsnight / Stephen Bush]
  • If the exit polls are correct, it’s possible that Theresa May could be ousted as head of her party (she did squander a parliamentary majority, after all). That could be bad news for the US, as May was the only Western European leader trying to keep a good relationship with the US under Trump. [NYT / Max Fisher]
  • But whether it’s May at the head of the Parliament or someone else, the push for Brexit, far from getting a vote of confidence, has been weakened. [CNN / Jane Merrick]

Dodd-Frank gets its own stress test

House Financial Services Committee holds hearing examining the SEC's Agenda, Operations, and FY 2018 Budget Request Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images
  • As Capitol Hill was consumed with James Comey’s testimony, the House GOP passed the biggest banking deregulation bill in the last a generation. With the exception of Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), every House Republican voted to approve the bill. Every House Democrat opposed it. [The Huffington Post / Matt Fuller, Ben Walsh]
  • The mammoth, 580-page Financial Choice Act would touch almost every part of the financial industry by repealing key provisions of Dodd-Frank — the bill President Barack Obama signed in 2010 to rein in Wall Street after the financial crisis. [Morning Consult / Ryan Rainey]
  • For a sampling, here are just three of the huge changes in the Choice Act: Elimination of the Volker Rule, which prevents commercial banks from risky and speculative trading; defunding of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which sues malicious corporate actors; and implementation of new rules making it easier for banks to pass the mandatory "stress tests" that gauge whether they can survive an economic shock. Experts say all have helped reduce the likelihood of another bank panic. [Vox / Jeff Stein]
  • House Democrats are saying that the bill is DOA in the Senate. And for the entirety of the bill, which contains extreme provisions like splitting the Federal Reserve in two, that’s almost certainly true. But key provisions within the Choice Act could probably pass through budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes to get through the Senate — rather than a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. [Vox / Mike Konczal]
  • Among the most vulnerable is the CFPB, the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). One of Dodd-Frank’s biggest success stories, CFPB has successfully won tens of millions for consumers — though Republicans are seeking to create congressional oversight of its regulators. [The New York Times / Gary Rivlin]
  • Another crucial regulatory agency on the chopping block is the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which established procedures for how and when the government can take over a failing bank. Eliminating the OLA would return the government to its pre-recession position of having no way to protect the market from a big bank’s failure, at least without a massive expense to taxpayers. [Vox / Jonah Crane]

Miscellaneous

  • Predicting refugee flows into Europe by monitoring Arabic-language Google searches in Turkey. [Pew Research Center / Philip Connor]
  • All the fun of figuring out a celebrity blind-item, but with the added Social Value that the blind item is “what script was so bad for women that it inspired Reese Witherspoon to start her own production company?” [Vulture / Kyle Buchanan]
  • Breitbart is trying to tone down the racism to stem an advertiser exodus — but it’s losing its audience in the process. [Washington Post / Paul Farhi]
  • You know that the Waffle House Index is an actual tool used by FEMA, right? You don’t? Oh, here you go. [The Joplin Globe / Koby Levin via GovTech]
  • Tired: Dinosaurs were paleo-lizards. Wired: Dinosaurs were paleo-birds. Inspired: Dinosaurs were paleo-birds, but there were also birds around at the time of the dinosaurs. [Smithsonian / Erin Blakemore]

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