Joan Walsh at The Nation tabulates Comey’s assertions of “liar”: Comey on Trump: Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar. She asks But will Republicans care?
Former FBI director James Comey torched what remains of President Donald Trump’s credibility Thursday afternoon, calling him a liar at least five times in three hours of testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump’s claims that he fired Comey because of chaos and poor morale at the FBI “are lies, plain and simple,” the former FBI boss declared. He kept notes about his conversations with Trump, Comey said, because “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” He denied Trump’s claims, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, that Comey had asked the president to have dinner in order to make the case to keep his job. In fact, Trump asked for the dinner, where he repeatedly demanded “loyalty” from the independent Justice Department official.
When “hope” is more than just a hope
When pressed for his loyalty and the “hope” to “let it go”, why didn’t Comey just tell Trump to buzz off?
Lyndon Johnson was one of the most impressing figures ever to hold the office of President. He was a tall man with a big hug and a flair for getting in your face. Imagine yourself as working in the executive branch and LBJ puts his arm around your shoulders and says, with that famous Texas drawl, “I hope y’all can support my bill.” That’s not a direct order. But what would you do? When the President of the United States says he hopes you can do something, how else would you take it?
Comey did not come away from the experience unscathed. Not just Republicans but Democrats asked Comey why he hadn’t challenged Trump harder on his inappropriate efforts to get information on the Russia investigation and to pressure Comey to drop the probe into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey admitted he should have been more clear with the president that such efforts were out of bounds. Idaho GOP Senator James Risch hung on the fact that Trump used the words “I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go,” insisting that “hope” isn’t the same as an order. “He did not direct you to let it go,” Risch insisted. Comey replied, “I took it as a direction. He’s the president of the United States.”
In several comments, Comey made plain that he considered Trump’s suggestion an “order,” quoting Henry II’s famous, menacing quote about Thomas Becket, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” (Becket wound up dead two days later.) It was not an inapt comparison, though it did serve to remind us of Comey’s high self-regard. Comey’s testimony that he considered Trump’s meddling in the Flynn investigation “an order” could be crucial evidence of obstruction of justice if Mueller decides to pursue such a charge.
Here’s the exchange between Sen. Angus King and Comey (from NY Times’ transcript).
*KING*: In terms of his comments to you about — I think in response to Mr. Risch — to Senator Risch, you said he said, “I hope you will hold back on that.” But when you get a — when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?
*COMEY*: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
*KING*: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.
What we can hope for from the investigation
Walsh pessimistically concludes that it will take a lot more Grand Old Pain to convince the GOP that defending Trump is contrary to their interests.
What we can be sure of, unfortunately, is that Comey’s testimony won’t move the GOP toward action to rein in Trump. It gives the rest of us a little bit more insight into what independent counsel Mueller may be seeing; it may give us hope that the investigation will hit its targets. But this process is likely to move slowly, as long as GOP leaders, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, defend Trump’s Comey coercion as the actions of a neophyte who “was new at this” FBI-independence stuff. They’ll defend him until he hurts them more than he helps, and who knows when they’ll decide that will be?
My hunch is that once the GOP has decided they’ve wrung every last drop of legislation they will get, they will drop him.