The bad news for President Trump is that former FBI Director James Comey was about as good as a witness gets in his public appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday. The good news for Trump — well, it’s hard to find any.
According to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s not been candid about his firing of Comey and his version of whether he asked Comey to back away from an investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his lies to Vice President Pence about contacts with Russians, among other things. (Trump has said Comey is lying and he will testify about it, if asked.)
There’s just no other way to put it. Comey has said the president was lying when he rationalized Comey’s firing and denied he asked Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. And he expanded other remarks, noting that one reason he took copious notes from a meeting with Trump was that he thought Trump might lie about the conversation. That’s something he didn’t feel was necessary, he said, in meetings with President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Another disturbing moment of the testimony came when Comey told senators he felt that Trump’s views on the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election — though he acknowledged Trump didn’t ask him to stop the investigation — came with a wish on Trump’s part to elicit a pledge of loyalty from Comey, something that would turn the FBI post into a patronage job, which it is not supposed to be. That’s one of the reasons it comes with a 10-year term.
The FBI’s former director has received criticism on both sides of the aisle, from Democrats because of his curious announcements about a probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and from Republicans because of the embarrassment his dismissal has brought to Trump.
Committee Vice Chair Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, was a forceful questioner. He focused on the issues of Trump’s different versions of his interactions with Comey. Sen. Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, was a relatively weak interrogator, as were some other Republicans. This is no fun for them, to be sure, because they know of Trump’s reputation for disregarding the truth and changing his versions of stories, and his political positions, as convenience demands.
But they doubtless fear the president’s wrath should they be perceived as not sticking closely by his side. The president attacks his perceived enemies wickedly and quickly.
Now, however, Trump is up against it. Comey says he interpreted the president’s views on Flynn as a directive of sorts to back off the investigation. A debate has ensued and will continue over whether Trump’s actions constitute an attempted obstruction of justice. And that’s just based on what Comey said in an open session, which was followed by a classified one.
Comey even turned the tables on Trump’s threatening hints that Comey better hope there are no tapes of their meeting. Comey said he hoped there were tapes.
Trump’s crisis is deepening. And the really bad news is that even his Republican allies seem to be quietly distancing themselves from him.