4:15 a.m: That’s when an eager intern said they arrived onsite Thursdsay in the Senate Hart office building, securing their spot at the front of the line for the most anticipated hearing on Capitol Hill in recent memory.
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Former FBI Director James Comey wouldn’t start his testimony until nearly six hours later, but in those early morning hours while most of Washington was still sleeping, Capitol Hill was already caught up in Comey-mania.
Camera crews readied their shots for the morning shows. Capitol Police officers assembled outside the hearing room to run through their plans for the morning. The line to enter the hearing room snaked through the halls of not one, but two Senate office buildings. At least one producer even managed to get trapped in a stairwell while trying to navigate their way to the live shot. Ok, I’ll admit it. It was me.
This was the Super Bowl of congressional hearings. The field: Hart 216 -– one of Capitol Hill’s most expansive and storied hearing rooms where senators have grilled Supreme Court nominees. In the crowd: 88 seats for members of the general public. Hundreds more watched in an overflow room in Dirksen and lined up in the hallways, huddled around phones. Several rows of seats were reserved for guests, lawmakers, congressional staff and FBI officials. Even Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was fired by President Trump, managed to secure a seat courtesy of his home state Senator Chuck Schumer.
Reporters crammed in at tables at the center of the room. Photographers crouched down in front of the dais where 17 senators assembled. Dozens more reporters were stationed in media booths overlooking the hearing room.
We were perched in one of those tiny media booths up above – giving us a bird’s eye view of the kick-off: The 6’8” Comey entering the hearing room, towering over the still as a torrent of clicks unleashed from their cameras.
Throughout the next two-and-half hours of public questioning, the hearing room was mostly subdued as the former FBI director recounted his interactions with the president. Comey made headlines when he accused the president of telling “lies, plain and simple” about him and the FBI.
But also a few lighthearted moments – like when Comey said he had to cancel a date with his wife to have dinner with President Trump – prompted light chuckles from the otherwise silent and intently focused crowd.
When the public portion of the hearing concluded, Comey slipped out of the hearing room and made his way down the hall for another session with the committee that took place behind closed doors. That meeting was much shorter, lasting roughly 90 minutes.
As that closed session wound down, the eager interns in the hallway outside Hart 216 were replaced by reporters waiting to throw out their own questions to Comey. But when he emerged after nearly six hours of questioning, Comey ignored reporters’ questions as he walked down the hallway stone-faced.