Blame Comey If Your Employees Aren't Working Thursday Morning

  • Local tavern to host watch party with ‘FBI’ sandwich and vodka
  • Analyst predicts loss of productivity during Thursday hearing

Comey Expected to Avoid Saying Trump Obstructed Justice

Rob Heim didn’t think many people would want to show up. After all, it’s a Thursday morning.

But when Shaw’s Tavern posted on social media it was hosting a watch party for James Comey’s congressional testimony, the response was overwhelming, said Heim, the general manager. By Tuesday, almost 400 people had replied on Facebook that they’re going.

Shaw’s, located just minutes away from Capitol Hill in Washington, plans to open 90 minutes early Thursday, at 9:30 a.m., to air the hearing on its 10 TVs. In a nod to the theme, Heim plans to serve $5 Russian Stoli vodkas and a $10 “FBI sandwich” -- fried chicken, bacon and iceberg lettuce.

“It seems like a lot of people are ditching work to watch the hearing, so we’re happy to hear that,” Heim said.

It’s not only Washington obsessed with Comey’s hearing. From Wall Street to Toledo to St. Louis, it’s expected that a big chunk of the nation will stop what they’re doing to watch the former FBI director testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The major broadcast and cable news networks plan to carry the hearings live, preempting regular programming -- at the risk of upsetting daytime TV fans. Many networks plan to stream the hearing online. The biggest sign something dramatic is going on: They’re trotting out star anchors like Lester Holt and George Stephanopoulos to host.

Russian Meddling

Comey’s testimony will be must-see TV following reports that President Donald Trump pressured him to shut down the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Comey was fired by Trump last month and is expected to describe conversations he had with the president.

It comes on a busy news day: Britons go to the polls Thursday to elect a new Parliament.

Brad Adgate, a media consultant, likened the buzz to early rounds of the March Madness college-basketball tournament, where people watch games while pretending to work. He’s predicting a loss of productivity that day.

“It’s not going to be like the moon landing or the Kennedy assassination,” Adgate said. “But there could be something memorable or something very significant that Comey says.”

Wall Streeters will be listening closely to Comey’s remarks to see how damaging they might be to Trump, said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management, which oversees about $242 billion.

“If we start hearing the word ‘impeachment’ flying around, that will take legislators’ time and attention from what investors are really interested in -- the reform agenda,” Jacobsen said. “This can make the markets quite nervous.”

Black Swan

Phil Orlando helps oversee $360 billion at Federated Investors from a New York office walled with TVs that show every business network throughout the day, so he’ll be watching Comey. “We think this is nothing more than noise,” Orlando said. Still, the 37-year Wall Street veteran’s taking no chances. He’s been culling some of the riskier assets in his portfolio.

In Morristown, New Jersey, Jeff Sica and three analysts will monitor Comey -- and Trump’s Twitter account -- at Circle Squared Alternative Investments, where he helps oversee $1.5 billion as the firm’s president. The money manager has been cutting holdings of stocks and bonds and is ready to spend on gold if the testimony sparks a selloff.

“Investors have to be very sensitive to the likelihood of a headline or black-swan event to knock off a market that’s priced for perfection,” said Sica, pointing to the S&P 500’s price-earnings ratio of almost 22.

Big Audiences

High-profile congressional hearings have drawn big TV audiences before. In 1991, more than 20 million homes watched Anita Hill’s testimony before a Senate panel that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Some 40 million people tuned in to see former Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testify before Congress during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings. Opening day of the Watergate hearings in 1973 drew about 9 million viewers on the three commercial networks, NBC said at the time.

Today’s television landscape is different, with viewers fragmented across broadcast networks, cable news and online streaming. Besides the Super Bowl or the Oscars, there aren’t many events anymore on broadcast TV that draw big live national audiences.

Clinton Debate

Of course these days just about everything connected to Trump seems to draw massive ratings, fueling advertising at MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. For instance, the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton drew more than 84 million viewers, making it the most watched in history.

Lindsay Pattan, 30, of St. Louis, and about 10 friends with flexible work schedules plan to gather at a local restaurant to watch Comey’s testimony. Those who can’t make it will join them on Twitter and via group texts, she said.

“Our friends and peers follow politics closely and know this is a critical moment in both our nation’s history and our immediate future,” she said. “We are very engaged.”

Lou Vaughn, a 45-year-old accountant in Toledo, Ohio, tweeted last week she was more excited about seeing Comey testify than a season finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Vaughn, who normally works 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., plans to leave early Thursday.

“I’ll be home in time to watch,” she said. “It’s kind of horrifying but it’s very riveting at the same time. You just can’t believe this is really going on.”

— With assistance by Elena Popina, Oliver Renick, Lu Wang, and Michael Shepard

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