Comey Testimony a Prism for Viewing American Politics


Mr. Cunningham said the former F.B.I. director seemed honest and forthright, a man with little to hide and little reason to lie. To him, Mr. Comey’s steady, detailed delivery made Mr. Trump’s shoot-from-the-phone Twitter habit seem especially intemperate and cavalier. He said he would be perfectly happy if Vice President Mike Pence took over for Mr. Trump.

“Because this is not working,” he said.

As the testimony unfolded on the TV screens, Michael O’Brien, 55, a retired teacher, hunched over his tablet, earbuds inserted, because he said the livestream from PBS was arriving just a few seconds earlier than the cable news feed.

“I’m afraid I’m going to miss something,” he said.

Mr. O’Brien had nothing kind to say about Mr. Trump or Republican politicians and commentators who have defended him and his campaign during the Russia investigation. He said he was disturbed by Russian hacking and interference in the last election, and was shocked more people were not equally outraged.

Mr. O’Brien and the woman sitting next to him at the bar, Sherry Wing, often argue politics. When he criticized the president, Ms. Wing would often respond that the country needed to come together after a divisive election and give him time to grow into the office. She said she still believed that to an extent, but as the testimony played overhead, she was developing another view.

“He’s just a spoiled rotten baby,” Ms. Wing said. “Let’s move forward. What are you going to do to make this country better?”

Ms. Wing, a registered Republican who tends bar at an American Legion post, voted independent last November out of distaste for both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton. She said she was not much fazed by political corruption (as old as America) or the revelations of Russian meddling into the election (a distraction).

But Ms. Wing was dismayed by what she believed the investigation had revealed about Mr. Trump’s temperament and character.

“What the hell does this have to do with anything?” Ms. Wing said. “Bring back our jobs. Bring back our dignity.” JACK HEALY

‘A Big Mess’

GROVETOWN, Ga. — The water tower here includes a rendering of an American flag and, just above Grovetown’s name, “God Bless America.” Soldiers from Fort Gordon fill restaurants, gas stations and retail shops.

But though it was easy to find a television beaming out Mr. Comey’s remarks, many people found other things to focus on.

“I think a lot of people have run with one little bit, and now it’s a big mess,” said Deborah Barnes, 61, who has run Hairy’s Barber Shop for about 18 years. “I would argue a lot of people — just regular Joes — see it the same way, and that’s why they elected Donald Trump.”

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Video: James Comey’s Complete Testimony

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, testified before Congress and discussed his meetings and phone calls with President Trump leading up to his dismissal.




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Ms. Barnes, dressed in a black barber’s smock with “Debbie” embroidered in red, had the hearing on in her shop. About an hour into Mr. Comey’s testimony, her customers had paid little attention, she said.

“I don’t even think that anybody noticed it being on,” she said. “They’re just interested in getting a haircut.”

Although Ms. Barnes said she was paying some attention to the day’s proceedings, she said she viewed the hearing as unlikely to settle any of the questions that have dogged Mr. Trump’s presidency.

“It is a big mess,” said Ms. Barnes, who does not use Twitter and said she was a sparing user of Facebook. “In my opinion, some of the senators are just out to get anything.”

She added, “Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, your president is your damn president.”

In nearby Augusta, Santria Swinton, 32, was watching the hearing as she cleaned at a hotel where the asking rate for a room on Thursday night was $97. As she moved among rooms on the fourth floor, she was switching televisions to CNN so she could listen to Mr. Comey.

“I just want to know what’s going on,” she said as she paused for a moment at the door of Room 409, the white comforter on its bed already adjusted, just so. “I’m just taking it all in. I’m just nosy.”

At the Harlem, Ga., Huddle House, across the street from a mural of Laurel and Hardy, the Comey hearing was playing on one television and ESPN on another. But neither appeared to be getting much attention.

A family sat in a booth closest to the television where Fox News was playing.

“I just think it’s propaganda,” Erin Mallory, 39, said as she stood behind the counter and a child screamed from elsewhere in the restaurant.

Ms. Mallory said she would catch up on Mr. Comey’s comments later.

“I think it’s just more noise,” she said. ALAN BLINDER

‘Come On, Give an Answer’

CHICAGO — In a quiet back room of a bakery here, three friends gathered Thursday to sip coffee, watch CNN and analyze every syllable Mr. Comey said about a president they loathe.

“I didn’t want to see the highlights,” said Chris Stone, 40, who took the day off from his job in advertising to watch the hearing. “I didn’t want to see the spin afterwards. I really was looking for the direct conversations.”

A couple of hours in, Mr. Stone said he heard enough to conclude that Mr. Trump — a man he described as “awful” and “dirty” — had tried to manipulate Mr. Comey.

“I think this is just the tip of the spear in terms of this investigation,” Mr. Stone said.

Seated next to him, Tari Toppe, 42, said she thought there was “possibly” enough information now to pursue impeachment of Mr. Trump.

“I was kind of hoping they would get enough out of this to look into obstruction of justice,” said Ms. Toppe, a massage therapist and stay-at-home mother.

Their friend, Kira Kurka, 43, was enjoying a carrot cake muffin and paying close attention for any evidence that Mr. Trump may have colluded with Russia. When Mr. Comey dodged a question on that topic, Ms. Kurka responded with displeasure. “Come on, give an answer,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”

But even Mr. Comey’s nonanswer spoke volumes, Ms. Kurka said. “He has something, he just can’t say, it’s something that has to be in a closed-door session, because it’s something big that could maybe lead to impeachment,” speculated Ms. Kurka, a photographer who said she was procrastinating on work in order to watch the hearing.

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Michael O’Brien at the Park Tavern in Denver, where he watched Mr. Comey’s testimony on his tablet.

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Ryan David Brown for The New York Times

Mr. Stone, Ms. Toppe and Ms. Kurka all voted for Mrs. Clinton in last year’s presidential election, and all expressed fears about the state of American democracy under Mr. Trump.

But the three friends agreed that Mr. Comey’s public testimony was a positive step, a sign that investigators were taking the Russia issue seriously and that wrongdoers might be held accountable.

They credited senators from both parties who asked tough questions. They scoffed as Republicans kept mentioning Mrs. Clinton’s email server.

Mr. Stone said the hearing had been “a good thing for transparency, for the American people.” And he said patience was needed as the investigation continued to unfold.

“Hopefully,” Mr. Stone said, “Americans aren’t expecting that this is going to be a quick conclusion.” MITCH SMITH

Distaste for Politics

PHOENIX — A burlesque dancer, a former Army ranger and a Home Depot sales clerk sat around the dark-mahogany bar at Ole Brass Rail on Thursday morning, having a drink at the end of a shift, or filling their stomachs at the start of a workday. The 18 television sets on the walls customarily show Diamondbacks or Cardinals games. But not Thursday morning.

Mr. Comey was testifying before Congress, so the bartender, Kathie Larsyn, tuned in to ABC and put up the volume, figuring everyone wanted to hear what Mr. Comey had to say.

At the bar, located on a busy corner between a check-cashing center and a Mexican restaurant, the political persuasions vary, but many regulars are united by their distaste for politics these days. The dancer, Kitty Victorian, voted for Hillary Clinton. The ranger, Abel Candelaria, voted for Donald Trump. The salesman, Terry Gaines, did not bother to cast a ballot last November.

In this slice of Arizona, a state that last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1996, the debate around the bar on Thursday was not about red or blue ideology, or about who was right — Mr. Comey or Mr. Trump. There was only sporadic interest in what was being said and instead a dismissive sense about politics in general.

“The whole thing is a circus,” said Mr. Gaines, 64, referring to the senators, who are “beholden to their constituents,” and Mr. Comey, “who probably has his own agenda.” Then, he returned to his plate of hash browns and scrambled eggs.

The only time when everyone seemed to be paying attention was when Senator John McCain of Arizona asked Mr. Comey about his investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

“Aren’t we talking about Russia?” Ms. Larsyn asked, her eyes trained on the screen.

In the bar, at least, the conversation veered toward Russia and whether it interfered in the elections, which “pretty much everyone agrees is pretty crazy,” Ms. Larsyn said.

Mr. Gaines recalled the weekly duck-and-cover in school when he was a child and the fear that he and everyone had of a nuclear attack by the former Soviet Union.

“Now, they say Russia influenced the elections for president of the United States,” he said, shaking his head.

Don Cross, 82, who was sipping a Budweiser, is a registered Republican who voted for Mrs. Clinton “because the alternative was terrible.” Nothing since the election has made him feel better about politics.

These days, “I’m a skeptical,” he said. “I don’t trust any of these people on TV. I don’t trust their motives.” FERNANDA SANTOS

Correction: June 9, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a Home Depot sales clerk in Phoenix. The clerk, Terry Gaines, is a man.

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