In Washington DC, Comey testimony is a spectator sport
More than an hour after James Comey started his testimony dozens of people were still waiting in line for a seat at Shaw’s Tavern, where Thursday’s drama on Capitol Hill unfolded on live television.
“There’s been so much media hype, it’s good to actually hear this from the source,” said Sadie Cornelius, a 33-year-old marketing executive, as the FBI director delivered his hotly-anticipated version of events leading up his dismissal by President Donald Trump.
Cornelius turned up early at Shaw’s, a bar and restaurant close to the capital’s hip U-Street neighborhood, one of several Washington venues that laid on early-morning watch parties in honor of Comey’s appearance.
After a coffee she went straight for a vodka, just minutes after the bar started serving alcohol at 11 am.
“I want the facts,” Cornelius said, as those like her lucky enough to have a seat ate from a novelty menu featuring FBI breakfasts and “Covfefe” coffees — in an irreverent nod to a muddled presidential tweet.
Although 200 were watching at the bar and on its terrace, and others looked on from the sidewalk, there was silence as they took in Comey’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During almost three hours of blockbuster testimony, Comey described himself as “stunned” by Trump’s “very disturbing” and “very concerning” behavior during several private meetings.
But as Comey declined to say if he thought Trump obstructed justice by asking him to drop an investigation into his former aide’s ties to Russia, some felt short-changed by the political spectacle.
“It’s kind of disappointing. We are not getting to the bottom of this,” said Dwight Callaway, 55.
“Hearing about what he and Trump talked about, it sounds like mobsters talking, but that’s Trump — he’s from Queens, New York, and the construction business. He’s a mobster.”
– ‘Tip of the iceberg’ –
The serious mood was broken by applause when Comey — having been asked why he was dismissed by Trump — said it was not his job to please people, but to serve the United States.
“I think the world is appalled at this Trump administration,” said Hannah Matthews, a human rights specialist from Britain. “This is an important moment for democracy. Maybe today, things will start to change.”
Ella Harvey, 18, is too young to legally drink at bars in the United States, but she was eligible to vote in November’s election and she cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump.
She shared her alarm at the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled to tip the vote in Trump’s favor.
“I think Russia definitely had a hand in what happened,” said the teenager, who is studying Chinese and Economics at Tufts University, near Boston.
“There’s been a lot of talk. I’m hoping more will come out in this today.”
For Cornelius, the almost three hours of testimony, during which Comey accused the White House of lies and defamation, left her uneasy.
“It feels like this is the tip of the iceberg. What he said has opened up a can of worms and it’s not really answered the many questions that people have.”