A weekly outreach to our friends and colleagues in Canada
Comey Circus – Bars and restaurants opened early yesterday morning in Washington, DC so politicos in the nation’s capital could comfortably watch the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey as the Senate Intelligence Committee investigates Russian ties to the 2016 election. In his prepared written testimony released Wednesday, Comey confirmed what President Donald Trump has said and been rejected by the media and Democrats – that Comey had in fact told Trump on three separate occasions that the President is not the subject of an FBI investigation. Citing “anonymous” sources, media outlets led by CNN, wrongly asserted that Comey would refute Trump’s assertions that Comey told him he wasn’t an FBI target. (CNN and ABC have issued corrections to their stories.) Additionally, Comey stated that while Trump was anxious to have his named publicly cleared since he was not the subject of an investigation, the President also said it was important to find out if any of his “satellite” associates had done anything wrong. Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted out this week he intends to nominate a former George W. Bush official, Christopher A. Wray, as the new head of the FBI. And the House Republican Steering Committee yesterday afternoon backed South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy to become the next chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. If confirmed by the full GOP Conference, Gowdy would be leading the probe into Trump's decision to fire Comey. A former federal prosecutor, Gowdy would replace outgoing Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who will resign at the end of June.
What’s the “Matter?” – Comey also testified Thursday that Barack Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch directed him to describe the Hillary Clinton email probe as a "matter" and not an "investigation." He said that Lynch’s directive, combined with her controversial Arizona tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton, led Comey to make his independent announcement regarding the Clinton email probe last July. "There were other things, significant items," Comey said, citing how "the Attorney General directed me not to call it an investigation and call it a matter—which confused me." Comey said that he was concerned Lynch was trying to align the Obama Justice Department’s comments to the Clinton campaign's talking points about the probe which gave him a “queasy feeling.”
Like What You Hear? – The markets like what Comey had to say with the Dow rising 80 points to record high yesterday as traders see no “smoking gun” from the former FBI head. Democrats and the media are encouraged because Comey called Trump a “liar” some five times with Comey admitting he leaked a memo shortly after he was fired by Trump through a professor at Columbia University in hopes of prompting a special counsel investigation. That memo, written contemporaneously, documented Comey's Oval Office meeting with President Trump during which the president allegedly insinuated he wanted the investigation dropped against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s ambiguous answers on other fronts have Democrats optimistic that Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be under the microscope of federal investigators. Trump supporters, meanwhile, are encouraged by Comey’s backing up that Trump was not a target of the investigation and by his criticism of the media, testifying the “many, many” stories they’ve pushed on Russia “are dead wrong.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) pointedly asked Comey why, with all the leaks – including from Comey himself – it never leaked that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation -- insinuating that leaks to the press are one-sided in an effort to undermine the president.
No Interference – Meanwhile, push back Wednesday from key intelligence officers in the narrative that President Trump inappropriately pressured the intelligence community regarding the role Russia played in the 2016 investigation. Both NSA Director Mike Rogers and Director of Intelligence Dan Coates rejected rigorous questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee. "In the three-plus years that I have been director of the national security agency, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate and to the best of my recollection during that same period of service I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so," NSA Director Rogers told the committee. Coates likewise testified saying, "I have never felt pressured to interfere or intervene in shaping intelligence in any way."
Winner or Loser? – A 25-year-old NSA contractor, Reality Winner, was arrested and charged with espionage this week for allegedly leaking an NSA report showing Russian interference in the 2016 election. Winner, a strident opponent of President Trump on social media, had a top-secret national security clearance. The government says Winner downloaded and printed a top-secret NSA report, removed the printed version of the report from her employer’s property, and then mailed it to a media outlet, The Intercept. The Obama tenure NSA report, dated May 5, provides details of a 2016 Russian cyberattack on a US voting software supplier, though there is no evidence the hack affected any votes. Indeed, Comey testified there is no evidence votes were impacted in the 2016 election. Winner was a linguist in the US Air Force and speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, according to her mother.
Terrific Ties in Toronto
Delegates from across the southern US and Canadian provinces gathered in Toronto this week for the 10th annual Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces (SEUS-CP) conference.
The province of Ontario pulled out all the stops for the conference which was held at the historic Fairmont Royal York hotel and featured awesome displays of high tech razzle dazzle, music, fab food and of course, abundant bilat business networking.
Team Wilkins was on hand for all the festivities and your former US Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, was honored to serve as Head of Delegation for the beautiful state of South Carolina, representing Governor Henry McMaster.
There were many old and new friends at SEUS-CP this year. It was especially gratifying to catch up with former Quebec Premier, Jean Charest, who along with former Georgia Governor, Sonny Perdue (now the United States Secretary of Agriculture), jump stared the organization back when Wilkins was still serving in Ottawa in 2007. The first SEUS-CP meeting was held that year in Montreal.
Wilkins with our new US Secretary of Agriculture and former Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue.
Carolina-Canada connections with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest.
Here’s what Phil Bolton with Global Atlanta had to write about the conference under the headline, Ten Year Anniversary of the SEUS-CP Alliance in Toronto Broadens Ties Between the Southeast and Canada’s Eastern Provinces:
In November 2007, the alliance among the six Southeast U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces, now known as SEUS-CP Alliance, seemed like a nice excuse for government officials to get to know each other better with the long-shot that commercial ties might follow.
The idea was hatched in the office of then U.S. ambassador to Canada in Ottawa during a meeting attended by then Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue; the U.S. ambassador at the time, David Wilkins; Craig Lesser, Georgia’s commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Brian Oak, the consul general of Canada based in Atlanta and Chris Young, the governor’s chief of protocol.
The alliance was signed in Montreal with Mr. Perdue representing the Southeastern states and Jean Charest, Quebec’s premier at the time, representing the Canadian provinces.
Ten years later in Toronto, the most recent meeting of the SEUS-CP Alliance, which concluded on Tuesday, exceeded the expectations of a decade ago, Mr. Lesser told Global Atlanta in a telephone interview during which he praised the conference’s organization by Ontario’s government.
He underscored the 450 business meetings between U.S. and Canadian companies scheduled during the June 4-6 conference, which was promoted as a venue for promoting trade and investment opportunities through fair and free trade as well as “creating a welcoming and competitive environment to encourage innovation in a fast-changing economy.”
Instead of sputtering out due to a lack of commercial interest, the alliance has held meetings every year since its founding in Montreal, alternating between cities in the U.S. and Canada.
And in addition to the business prospects stoked the past few days at this most recent conference, it provided an opportunity for a reunion of sorts.
Mr. Perdue attended no longer as a private businessman or governor of a state, but as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has as its official mission to “provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.”
Mr. Charest, who has returned to practicing law after his 2012 political defeat, also attended as did Mr. Lesser, who now is the managing partner of a consulting firm, and served as the moderator of a discussion among the three of them, which served as a highlight of the gathering. “We talked about the four essential pillars that are so important to this relationship,” he said. “You know these very well: business, government, education and culture.”
While the conference provided the U.S. governors the opportunity to meet and get to know their Canadian counterparts and the business meetings took care of the commercial side, he said that the discussion didn’t abandon the importance of forming educational and cultural ties.
Of particular interest, and quite unexpectedly, he added that the discussion focused on economic initiatives that could benefit rural areas in the Southeast based on developments in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. “It’s this kind of sharing of ideas and the relationships among the leaders that can be beneficial and lead to growth,” he said…
Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest and US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talk about a decade of bilat business and friendship.
The SEUS-CP delegation heads including New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne listen to what David Wilkins has to say about the Palmetto State.
From Toronto, Wilkins flew down to Washington, DC where he finished out the week in his typically busy fashion. On Tuesday evening, he joined Canadian and Mexican elected officials and business leaders for a dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce. It was wonderful to see a number of friends including President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Perrin Beatty.
Wilkins’ meetings in DC included visits with South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan as well as Canada’s Ambassador to the US, David MacNaughton. He also attended a luncheon event at the Woodrow Wilson Center held in honor of the Canadian premiers in town for their Council of the Federation mission to the nation’s capital. As always, it was great to catch up with current Exxon executive and former US diplomat Tom Huffaker and with Gitane De Silva, Alberta’s representative in Washington.
They Said What?
- "CORRECTION AND UPDATE: This article was published before Comey released his prepared opening statement. The article and headline have been corrected to reflect that Comey does not directly dispute that Trump was told multiple times he was not under investigation in his prepared testimony released after this story was published,” – CNN-issued correction of its faulty reporting regarding what the president told the former FBI chief.
- “In the main – it was not true. The challenge -- and I’m not picking on reporters -- about writing stories about classified information is that people talking about it often don’t really know what is going on. And those of us who actually know what’s going on aren’t talking about it. And we don’t call the press to say, hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic. We just have to leave it there,” – Former FBI Director James Comey testifying today that a February New York Times article titled, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence,” was bogus.
- “Contrary to numerous false press accounts leading up to today’s hearing, Mr. Comey has now finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told the President privately: The President was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference. He also admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference…the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving in an administration, and, from before this President took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications. Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers,” – Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s personal lawyer, responding to Comey’s testimony.
- “Let's just keep this in perspective. There is a criminal investigation going on of one of the president's top associates. His former national security adviser, one of the handful of most important people in the government. He gets fired. He is under criminal investigation. And the president brings in the FBI director and says please stop your investigation. If that isn't obstruction of justice, I don't know what is,” – CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin doubling down on his prior claims against the President in the wake of Comey’s testimony.
- “Let me at least finish once before you interrupt me!” – Department of Homeland Security Secretary General John Kelly trying to get a word in edgewise when being questioned at the Senate Intel Committee hearing by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) earlier this week.
If you are interested in the possibility of having Ambassador Wilkins speak at an event, please contact Christy Cox at Christy.Cox@nelsonmullins.com or call 803.255.9470.
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.