Many of the people who sausaged into Union Pub on Capitol Hill on Thursday to watch former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence likely showed up for the bar’s promise of free drinks if President Trump tweeted during the hearing.
Alas, after two hours 40 minutes—during which Comey called the President of the United States a liar, accused the White House of defaming him and the bureau he used to lead, and said he was responsible for the leak of his personal memoranda about his meetings with Trump—everyone had to pay for their drinks.
But even with Trump apparently separated from his mobile phone, the bar—one of many around DC that opened early to show the Comey hearing—felt like a rousing studio audience. When Comey used his opening remarks to tell the FBI’s agents that he was “so sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to you publicly,” a swelling “aww” noise filled the room, sounding remarkably like the live studio audience for a ’90s sitcom. When he told Senator Mark Warner he took meticulous notes about his conversations with Trump because, he said, “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” seemingly everyone at the bar gasped.
That is to say, the people at Union Pub who were not journalists covering the bar, searching for DC worker bees playing hooky to watch. There were at least a handful of civilians, looking for political satisfaction, a comped drink, or both.
“I’m not here for the special,” said Annette Summers, whose nonprofit consulting firm emptied out for the morning. “I wanted to be part of the energy. I think all of us are feeling so frustrated. I wanted to be here with individuals who wanted to watch this hearing regardless of where it goes.”
Comey got bounced from senator to senator, dropping more nuggets about his awkward January 27 dinner with Trump, the investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the role of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Republican National Committee ran interference for Trump on social media, offering to serve up the “#BigLeagueTruth” on the former FBI chief. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.
The 140-character rumblings of the President’s son were not redeemable, waiters said. Inside Union Pub, a single television set showed the President’s Twitter page. While dozens of other sets were tuned to Fox News, the lonely Twitter screen remained static.
“I wish he was tweeting,” said Summers’s colleague Tamara Winns.
“They advertised free drinks. He’s got to tweet,” George Washington University graduate student Max Souders said.
Senators asked questions. Comey answered. Waiters took orders and collected money for drinks. The image of Trump’s Twitter page never budged.
Some Union Pub customers were torn on how they felt about Comey himself. “We’re not necessarily fans of him,” said Torrie Nickerson. “But in this particular moment, he could disrupt the Trump administration and bring him down.” Across the patio, one man bellowed: “Comey’s my boy. Even when he pulled that funky shit with Hillary last year, I was still a fan.”
As the hearing started winding down, William Steagall, a cybersecurity consultant, was passing out “Comey Hearing Bingo” cards to his fellow viewers. His card was one mention of “our allies” short of a complete line, so nobody won.
“I’m pretty sure President Trump lost,” Steagall said.
So, too, did everyone who bolted from the bar before the hearing ended. As the Senate chamber emptied out and Fox News went into post-game color commentary, waiters came around with buckets of camouflage-painted bottles of Budweiser at no charge. Perhaps the day would’ve been a sloppy, fall-down-drunk mess had Trump been tweeting along with every living US journalist and other observers, and Union Pub would’ve devolved into a bacchanal of armchair pundits.
At least some of us got a free drink.