Comey, Comey, Comey!

The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel asks:

What if all the painful drama over Donald Trump and Mike Flynn and Hillary Clinton and Russians wasn’t really due to Donald Trump or Mike Flynn or Hillary Clinton or Russians? What if the national spectacle the country has endured comes down to one man, James Comey ?

It was certainly all about the former FBI director on Thursday, as he testified to the nation via the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr. Comey didn’t disappoint. He already had submitted pages of testimony detailing his every second with President Trump, complete with recollections of moments he felt “strange” or “uneasy” or “awkward.” But on Thursday he went further, wowing the media with bold pronouncements: President Trump was a liar; the president fired him to undermine the Russia investigation; the president had directed him to back off Mr. Flynn.

Mostly he pronounced on what is—and is not—proper in any given situation: when handling investigations, interacting with the president, or releasing information. By the end, something had become clear. Mr. Comey was not merely a player in the past year’s palaver. He was the player.

It was Mr. Comey who botched the investigation of Mrs. Clinton by appropriating the authority to exonerate and excoriate her publicly in an inappropriate press event, and then by reopening the probe right before the election. This gave Mrs. Clinton’s supporters a reason to claim they’d been robbed, which in turn stoked the “resistance” that has overrun U.S. politics.

We now know it didn’t have to be this way. Mr. Comey explained that he had lost faith in then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ability to handle the affair, in part because she had directed him to describe the probe in public as a “matter” rather than an “investigation.” That one of President Obama’s political appointees outright directed the head of the FBI to play down an investigation is far more scandalous than any accusation aired about Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said it gave him a “queasy” feeling. But did he call on Ms. Lynch to recuse herself? Did he demand a special counsel? No. Mr. Comey instead complied with the request. Then he judged that the only proper way to clean up the mess was to flout all the normal FBI protocols. Vive la resistance.

It was Mr. Comey who launched an investigation into Russian meddling last July and expanded it to look for possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That may well have been warranted. Yet before the election his FBI had leaked this to the press, casting an aura of illegitimacy on a new president and feeding conspiracy theories based on, in Mr. Comey’s words, “nonsense” reporting.

Mr. Comey could have spared us this by simply stating, as he acknowledged Thursday, that Mr. Trump wasn’t under investigation. One could argue he had a duty to explain, given that he’d taken the unusual step of confirming the probe, and given the leaks from his FBI and the flood of fake news that resulted. But no. James Comey judged that (in this case, at least) it would be improper to speak out. So we’ve had all Russia all the time.

Moreover, it was Mr. Comey who had the discussions with President Trump that he now describes as compromising. On Thursday he claimed to have felt that Mr. Trump was directing him to end the Flynn investigation, even as he simultaneously admitted that Mr. Trump’s words (“I hope”) expressed no such order. He said he had been deeply uncomfortable that Mr. Trump wasn’t following protocol for dealing with an FBI director.

If Mr. Comey truly had believed the president was interfering, he had a duty to report it or to resign. Instead he maintained Thursday it wasn’t his role to pronounce whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice. Really? This may count as the only time Mr. Comey suddenly didn’t have an opinion on whether to render justice or to take things into his own hands.

And why did he agree to dinner with Mr. Trump in the first place? Why keep accepting the president’s phone calls? Asked whether he, in those early meetings, ever told the president how things ought to go, he said no. Mr. Comey did nothing to establish a relationship he felt was correct.

Instead, he kept secret memos, something he’d never done before. He wrote them in an unclassified manner, the better to make them public later. He allowed Mr. Trump to continue, while building up this dossier.

When he was fired, he leaked to the media, through a “close friend,” highly selective bits of his privileged communications with the president. And then he stayed silent and let the speculation rage. Thus, for the past month the nation has been mired in a new scandal, fueled by half-leaks. Thank you, yet again, Mr. Comey.

Yes, Russia interfered. Yes, Mr. Trump damages himself with reckless words and tweets. Yes, the Hillary situation was tricky. Yet you have to ask: How remarkably different would the world look had Mr. Comey chosen to retire in, say, 2015 to focus on his golf game? If only.

Real Clear Politics reports predictable news:

As the political world consumed the testimony of James Comey Thursday like it would a major sporting event, Republicans outside Washington gave a collective shrug.

Donald Trump‘s firing of his FBI director in the middle of his probe of the president’s associates, a slew of congressional investigations involving Russia, and Trump’s nearly daily self-inflicted distractions — including rogue tweets lambasting the mayor of London and undermining his own legal defense of his travel ban — have made life difficult for GOP lawmakers in the nation’s capital while threatening to derail the administration’s top policy priorities.

Republicans watching from afar differ from their inside-the-Beltway brethren. From a vantage point aided by geographical distance from Washington, many of these GOP professionals see a president stymied by a sustained Democratic-resistance attack (never mind that Republicans control both the House and Senate) and media narratives they perceive to be pre-ordained.

“A lot of our people view this as just a continual re-litigation of an election the Democrats lost,” said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina GOP, who said 800 Republicans came to a party gathering last weekend to hear Kellyanne Conway and Lara Trump speak. “Nothing that James Comey says is going to impact whether they can put gas in their car, whether they can feed their family, whether they can take an additional day at the beach or the mountains this summer.”

While the solidity of Trump’s base isn’t surprising, the partisan lens through which events like the Comey testimony are viewed gives clues to how congressional Republicans might behave when it comes to the president. GOP lawmakers often lament Trump’s twitchy thumbs on Twitter and the ways in which he consistently distracts from the tasks at hand—this week was supposed to be dedicated to infrastructure policy, after all—but they haven’t thrown their hands up yet.

A new ABC News/Washington Post survey, for example, shows a sharp party divide on issues like the fired FBI director. While 88 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents think Trump fired Comey to protect himself, 71 percent of Republicans believe his ouster was for the good of the country.

“Honestly, they don’t seem to care too much about all this Russia mumbo jumbo,” said Kyle Hupfer, the GOP chair in Indiana, a state Trump won by 19 points and where his vice president used to be governor. “[Comey] is the same person that every Democrat wanted terminated six months ago, and now he’s the darling of the Democratic Party?”

While Republican senators on the Intelligence Committee that conducted Comey’s hearing praised the former FBI director’s service and thoroughness, some pressed him in a way that took focus off the president and put it on Comey.

Among the questions from Republicans: Why didn’t you tell the president it was inappropriate to meet alone, or flag concerns with Congress? How is it that in this leaky environment, the director’s assurance that Trump was not the subject of an FBI investigation did not trickle out? You claim Trump said he “hoped” the FBI could let go of the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but how do you know that was meant as a directive and not simply a suggestion?

House Speaker Paul Ryan argued that Trump is “new at this” and is not versed in protocol as it pertains to interactions with the FBI. “When the FBI director tells him on three different occasions he is not under investigation, yet the speculation swirls around the political system that he is, that’s frustrating,” Ryan said. “I think the American people now know why he was frustrated.”



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