Comey testimony reveals Republican willingness to shield Trump
Yesterday, former FBI Director James Comey presented some of the most anticipated public testimony in decades of Washington, D.C. officialdom, detailing the encounters with President Trump that culminated in his firing this past May.
The testimony no doubt inflames existing suspicions of Trump's troubled tenure in office - yet also bears witness to the difficulty of reining in the president's behavior if no political leaders from his own party are willing to force the issue.
Ironically, the Trump administration finds itself in the same place vis-a-vis statements by James Comey, as the Clinton campaign did last summer - claiming victory in the fact that nothing in the former director's statements lands a direct, actionable hit, while downplaying or ignoring the overall effect of claims made.
"Lordy, I hope there are tapes", said Comey at one point.
Comey's written statement, released in advance of the hearing, set the ball rolling: Numerous one-on-one meetings by Trump's request (compared to only two during Barack Obama's entire presidency), expectations of "loyalty" (or at least "honest loyalty") above all else, the decision to set down the details of each and every conversation in writing as soon as possible - in the form of unclassified memos that would eventually make their way to the press.
Such was the basis for three hours of questioning by the before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Throughout the hearing, Comey came across as the model of a dedicated civil servant, loyal to the independence of the Bureau above and beyond politics - his harshest words for the administration were reserved for the president's suggestion that the FBI was in disarray, and that his leadership had been poor. "Those were lies, plain and simple," he noted.
|Comey came across as the model of a dedicated civil servant, loyal to the independence of the Bureau above and beyond politics|
Beyond directly calling out lies, there were several gut punches to the administration in Comey's testimony.
There was mention of Trump's repeated requests for private meetings - requesting Comey’s "loyalty" in in one, later telling the director that he "hope[d] you can let... go" of the investigation into subsequently fired National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.
There was the refusal to answer questions about Trump campaign collusion with Russia in an open setting.
|Read more: Qatar diplomatic crisis again reveals Trump's incoherent Twitter policymaking|
There was the suggestion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was unwilling or unable to do anything to rein in his boss's breaches of protocol - an ongoing pattern with the Trump presidency, where we still wonder whether there are ever enough "adults in the room" with the president.
Smoke and Mirrors
As per usual, though, anything short of a smoking gun will make it difficult to bring any meaningful political pressure to bear on the Trump presidency.
Bipartisanship is not fully dead in the Senate - Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the chair and vice chair of the committee, ran a professional and timely hearing, making sure that the American people (or at least the politicos following along on CNN and CSPAN) got the answers to questions swirling around the former director and the embattled President Trump.
|Anything short of a smoking gun will make it difficult to bring any meaningful political pressure to bear on the Trump presidency|
Yet the three-hour session included plenty of questions about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, the actions of Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the trustworthiness of the mainstream media in general - each generating stories to cast aspersions on President Trump's critics.
Likewise, lines of counterattack in the hearing parsed the president's language and Comey's actions in detail.
Senator Risch (R-Idaho) pointed to the president's "I hope" as evidence that there had been no explicit demand to stop the investigation. Tom Cotton (R-AR) joined others in asking why Comey hadn't been more vocal in pushing back against President Trump's requests - or offered to resign.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan - in a separate press conference - further demonstrated the Party's willingness to shield Trump from criticism by suggesting the president was simply "new to government," simply didn't understand that his interactions with Comey might have seemed improper. This despite the experienced staff and legal counsel supposedly guiding at least some of his actions.
|Barring new revelations it is hard to see what changes at present|
Questions by Risch and Cotton also sought to provide the Trump administration more ammunition in its war against the media, getting Comey on the record as saying that a New York Times story on the Trump campaign's ties to Russia as "almost entirely wrong".
In the days ahead, until something else takes over the news cycle, the main Republican response will no doubt be "nothing to see here, move along".
Perhaps former FBI Director Robert Mueller's independent investigation will turn up something more concrete, but barring new revelations it is hard to see what changes at present.
Still, the media's newfound bandwidth - with the Comey hearings over - should allow some room to cover the ongoing assault on US healthcare, or the rapidly expanding scourge of opioid addiction and overdose.
Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.