Future historians will marvel at the Republicans’ willingness to chain themselves to Donald Trump and sink with him to the depths of disgrace.
The latest manifestation of this suicidal syndrome is happening as we speak. Trump’s harried enablers are scrambling to deflect James Comey’s devastating testimony — which teed up a possible obstruction-of-justice case for special prosecutor Robert Mueller — and you almost have to feel sorry for them, because it’s a thankless task to float defenses that crumble under scrutiny.
I count at least five:
1. Comey said Trump wasn’t being investigated! As I mentioned yesterday, Comey acknowledged that Trump himself was not the target of a Kremlingate probe. But Trump’s defenders have ignored all the caveats: Investigations of this magnitude move slowly, and the top dog is rarely a target in the early stages; Trump was not a target as of the end of March, with Comey offering no assurances beyond that date; Comey refused Trump’s request that he be cleared publicly, precisely because Trump could wind up being a target later on; and if he wasn’t a target before, he certainly could be a target now – by Mueller, for possible obstruction of justice.
2. If Comey was truly abused by Trump, he should’ve stood up to Trump and told the world! As I also mentioned yesterday, this argument is a thigh-slapper – coming from the Republicans, most of whom have spent the past year quaking in their boots at the prospect of standing up to Trump. And David Frum, the former senior George W. Bush aide, says it’s no mystery why Comey didn’t confront Trump and tell the world: “Comey stayed for the same reason that non-venal people throughout the Trump administration stay – in the hope of protecting not only the country, but also the president himself, from worse people.”
3. Comey lied about his conversations with Trump! We’ve heard that one from Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz. Trump had to bring Kasowitz down from New York because the experienced Washington lawyers refuse to work for Trump (because, as they said earlier this week, ” he doesn’t pay his bills and doesn’t listen”). Kasowitz, who (like his client) has zero experience in Washington, instantly demonstrated yesterday that he can’t hit big-league pitching.
He said that “the President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr. Comey ‘let (Michael) Flynn go.'” He said, “the President also never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’ in form or substance.”
In other words, Kasowitz accused Comey of committing a felony.
Comey testified under oath; if he lied during his testimony, as Kasowitz claimed, he’s therefore guilty of perjury. That’s a pretty serious defamation. Does Kasowitz have any evidence to back it up? Of course not; all he has is Trump’s word, which has the value of soiled tissue. But wait, what about the “tapes” that Trump hinted at during one of his tweets? Does Trump have recordings that would buttress Kasowitz’s accusation? (Nope.) If not, will he come to Capitol Hill and contradict Comey under oath? (Nope.)
And even though Kasowitz insisted that Trump never voiced a loyalty demand, Kasowitz also insisted that such a demand would’ve been fully justified: “Of course, the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving in an Administration.” Kasowitz may be gifted at beating up on Trump’s legal adversaries in the real estate world, but clearly he’s ignorant about the FBI’s traditional status as an independent law-enforcement agency – and the fact that an FBI director’s 10-year term is designed to shield the officer from partisan administration interference.
4. Trump didn’t order Comey to leave Flynn alone, he only “hoped” Comey would do it! According to Comey’s recollection (which no Republican disputed), Trump took Comey aside and said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Republicans have seized on that line. Senator Jim Risch said yesterday that it’s not an obstruction of justice to “hope” for a cover-up, as opposed to specifically ordering a cover-up.
But at least two federal appeals courts have stated otherwise. When there’s a broader context (a series of theats, real or implied), a “hope” can indeed be interpreted as a cover-up demand. For instance, in 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an obstruction-of-justice conviction that was based on “sufficient circumstantial evidence” that included the defendant telling an accomplice, “I’m just hoping that you haven’t told anyone anything…Like, ya know, talking or anything like that.”
5. Trump didn’t mean nothing bad, he just doesn’t know what he’s doing! I’ve saved the best for last. Paul Ryan (who else?) came up with this one yesterday: “The president’s new at this. He’s new to government. So he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between the Department of Justice, the FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new at this.”
Which is like saying, “My six-year-old got behind the wheel and drove my car into a tree. But hey, give him a break, he’s new at this.”
Trump had 19 months, from campaign launch to Inauguration Day, to school himself on the basics of Washington governance. He never did it. And ignorance is no excuse; just ask any cop who writes you a speeding ticket despite your protestations that you never saw the signs.
By the way, Trump is tweeting again. Having digested Comey’s testimony, he feels “total and complete vindication.” How he could possibly feel that way is a mystery to most of us, but hey, let’s give the guy a break. He’s new at this.