WASHINGTON Crowds packed U.S. bars on Thursday to watch former FBI chief James Comey testify to Congress, with some patrons dismissing the hearing as hype and others cheering his comments as they downed mixed drinks with names like “impeachmint” and “bad hombre.”
From Capitol Hill to San Francisco’s Castro district, television “watch parties” beckoned politics buffs to taverns, restaurants and living rooms to view an event some likened to the “Super Bowl of Washington.”
The drama around Comey’s first public appearance since he was fired by President Donald Trump last month drew the kind of communal public interest more often associated with major sporting events and awards shows.
Every seat was taken at the Union Pub in Washington, located in the shadow of the building where Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee for about three hours from 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
Comey accused Trump of dismissing him to try to undercut the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign team and Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the election.
The pub had promised to buy patrons a round of drinks every time Trump, a prolific Twitter user, tweeted during Comey’s testimony – but drinkers were out of luck. The president did not launch a single public retort during the hearing, although his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., sent several tweets attacking Comey.
“(Comey) did in no uncertain terms call Trump a dishonest person,” said Jared Sorhaindo, 30, who works as a researcher. “That was one of the things that I thought would make Trump fly off the handle.”
Mark Johnson, 69, self-employed from Rockville, Maryland, was one of the few Republicans in the packed bar and defended the Republican president.
“It is kind of selective outrage on the part of Democrats, and I don’t think that what Trump did rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors,” Johnson said, referring to one of the standards that can trigger congressional impeachment proceedings against a president.
At Houston’s Axelrad Beer Garden, a crowd of 200 people applauded when Comey called Trump’s rationale for firing him “lies, plain and simple.” Texas leans Republican but Houston, the largest city in the state, voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in November.
“So far, no smoking gun,” said Cesar Robles, 35, watching the hearing at the bar. “Not much is going to be done” as a result of the testimony, he said.
Back at the Union Pub in the nation’s capital, Joseph Cortese, a 22-year-old intern working for a Republican congressman, said the hearing was overblown and would not affect Trump or his agenda.
Some Democrats have suggested Trump could be impeached and removed from office if he was found to have sought to hinder the Russia probe in a way that obstructed justice. That is seen as very unlikely given Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
“I think the media and liberals are going to have to move on and accept the fact that Donald Trump is going to be president for the next four years,” Cortese said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington, Gina Cherelus in New York and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Frances Kerry)